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Visit of a honey extraction and packaging unit

Exterior view of the work unit

In Teocelo, state of Veracruz, Mexico. A few weeks ago, at the invitation of one of our partner cooperatives in Mexico, I went to Teocelo, a small middle mountain town located about a 45 minutes drive from Xalapa (Veracruz province’s capital) where Maya Fair Trade has its office in Mexico. This day was planned in two stages: at first, a working meeting with some members of the cooperative and, then, a visit of one of its new honey extraction and packaging units belonging to a small beekeeping organization member of the cooperative. One must know that this cooperative is formed by several small beekeeping organizations distributed in various Mexican provinces like Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca and Mexico. Once the meeting has come to its end, we drive to reach out and discover this new unit. We take a side road that penetrates into multi-shaded coffee plantations. Teocelo is a market town located in the heart of the «Bosque de Niebla» («Fog forest»), an unique ecosystem in Central America. It consists of a mixture of mountain and coastal vegetations spread in a restricted geographic area known as «foothills». In the region, the main economic activities are, in order of importance: coffee production, honey and eco-tourism. Cattle breeding, milk production and the expansion of urban areas gradually reduce the extension of this forest. Beekeeping plays here a «buffer» role. In the middle of a wooded area, far form any habitat, we arrive on a site of +/- 2000 square meters, fully fenced, on which stands a brand new building. It is made of painted concrete blocks and is covered with a steel cladding roof. Several large doors provide internal access to the building from a loading dock built along its entire length. We park our car on a large concrete pavement parking. Some beekeepers and technicians of the local beekeeping organization, owner of the work unit and member of the cooperative welcome us. About sixty beekeepers are affiliated with this local organization. At last, we enter into the building. I am immediately impressed by the infrastructure: the building is divided into three workshops each one separated from the other by partitions. The first one is devoted to the reception and storage of honey supers (collected in apiaries and sent directly to the deposit). The second workshop is divided into two separate work units: one is intended for the mechanical extraction and filtering of honey, the other for homogenization, filling and labelling of drums. Two extractors, each one with a capacity of 8 supers (8 supers correspond to +/- 40 L of extracted honey), and several decanters (capacity of 5 MT each) are installed. Finally, the last unit is reserved for the storage of packaged drums and for the preparation and shipping of orders. Depending on the destination places, floors are sometimes tiled, sometimes covered with a coating of epoxy resin. The interior walls and partitions are lined up to the ceiling with smooth and washable white « food grade » panels. The building has also changing and sanitary areas for all the different operators. Each unit has at least a direct and independent access from or to the outside through large and high doors. Beekeepers no more extract their honey themselves (sometimes in difficult and precarious conditions) for a posterior deliver in conditioned canisters to the cooperative. From now on, they deliver directly the supers to the cooperative. There, thanks to this tool, the honey is extracted in perfect sanitary conditions. The supers’ extraction process is done individually for each beekeeper’s production and the manager records the amount of extracted honey in a register, so that it allows a perfect identification of the origin and the quantity of honey. Then, the extracted honeys are filtered and routed using a suction pump to a decanter. After a rest period, the honey is homogenized (mixed) and conditioned into drums that are then labelled. Finally, the filled and carefully labelled drums are directed to the storage room waiting to be shipped to customers. This infrastructure is certainly a model of its kind: firstly, it fully meets the standards required by health authorities in Mexico (Senasica – the deposit has been authorized since May 2011) and, secondly, it is, in many respects, a real evolution benefiting both the organization itself and its members and the customers: - The beekeepers are saving time and resources: the extraction work is simplified and they no longer need to invest personally in purchasing and maintaining some of the operating equipment. - The cooperative can consolidate its production in one place. The quality and safety of the honey are controlled in an optimal way and the cooperative can guarantee a better traceability. And, not least, the cooperative can export itself without having to look for an intermediary as partner. - Finally, from the client’s side, all these elements are reassuring and undoubtedly help to a more reliable basis for partnership, from both the honey quality than the delivery guarantees’ points of view. That means nothing less than « benefits » for all the partners! Thomas GRUBER Xalapa – Mexico 15/05/2012

Operating honey production chain
22 May 2012 18:03:48

MMH-MFT collaboration to sensitize about honey marketing

1 Perquín (Morazan, San Salvador), 24/01/2012

Within the framework of its development projects in the South, our sister organization, the asbl Miel Maya Honing (« MMH ») organizes a cycle of trainings called « Diplomado » on the theme: « Institutional strengthening of the beekeeping organizations of Mesoamerica». It is organized for beekeepers that are members of beekeeping cooperatives in the South. For the module 4 of this Diplomado (which has 6 in all distributed over 3 years), Maya Fair Trade (MFT) has been called on to conduct a training on the theme of honey marketing. It is an activity that MFT organizes punctually. It is, thus, at the invitation of our sister organization MMH and of the Colegio De La Frontera Sur (ECOSUR, Mexico) that around thirty beekeepers, members of 9 cooperatives from Mexico (2), Guatemala (3), Honduras (3) and Salvador (1), have met from 23rd till 28th of January 2012, in Perquín (San Salvador) to assist at this 4th module called: «Diversification and Marketing ». During 2 days, we have conducted a training workshop around honey marketing. The pursued goal was, in particular, to inform the organizations in a precise and didactic way about the « honey chain » and the parameters to take into account to ensure a successful marketing of the production. Due to the high number of participants and the diversity of their trajectories, we have developed a global, dynamic and playful approach, so that the beekeepers get involved in an active and constant participation and, in consequence, it helps to stimulate the collective reflection and the exchange of experiences. We have elaborated this training with didactic material such as panels, playing-cards, set of documents to be completed, that allowed a teamwork, in randomly formed groups work, but also individually and by organization (Picture 1). Concretely, this training took place in 4 steps: At first, to become aware of the cooperatives’ development stages, we have asked every participant to identify the level of development of his/her own cooperative on a panel called « Honey system from the hive to the final consumer ». This paperboard support of 3 x 2 meters, visible by everyone, helps the participants to situate themselves and confronts them with all the parameters of the honey chain (environment-production-packaging-marketing-consumers). Besides, this direct intervention on the panel helps the beekeeper: - to think about its own commercial practices - to consider various alternatives - to discuss them with the other participants. Secondly, once the commercial trajectories of each cooperative have been identified (direct sale, honey distribution at local level, national market, export), the participants have thought about situations experienced in honey marketing. These situations were illustrated by playing-cards, which they had to identify and understand in group-work (Picture 2). Then, every group answered some questions written on each playing-card looking for solutions to every situation. Thirdly, we have drawn the beekeepers’ attention on some marketing’s administrative aspects and by explaining their suitability. We also have revised together the traceability system (from the hive to the barrel), the labelling of products (barrels), how to draft a zoosanitary certificate, etc.... Finally, we have examined the notions of contract and specification sheets, invoice, packing list and some other indispensable administrative documents. The fourth and last part of the training was focused on the short and medium-term commercial perspectives that have appeared during the training. Once again, the beekeepers have intervened directly on the « Honey system » panel. After evaluation of those 2 days of « raising awareness » training, a contrasted panorama appears: 1) When beekeeping cooperatives begin in the honey marketing, they direct themselves spontaneously, in the short term, towards the sale of fractioned honey at local and even national levels. But, in the long term, there is a clear will to increase honey production and to join the export market. It is important to note that certain cooperatives having a strong regional identity maintain their will to supply only the national market and do not consider export as an alternative. This « withdraw » is understandable: it occurs when there is an under-consumption of honey and a need to stimulate the economy locally. 2) Two of the participating cooperatives already export their honey production in the Fairtrade network. One of them, that produces less than 40 tons yearly, considers more profitable to sell its production at one time (to a single customer), but also consider necessary to diversify customers. To reach this goal, the cooperative needs to produce more honey. For the other cooperative, whose yearly exported honey volume reaches 100 to 150 tons, the strategy of diversification is focused on local markets and by-products from the hive (propolis, pollen, etc.). At the end of this training, we can notice that beekeeping cooperatives work in a pragmatic way: each one tries to maintain and/or to strengthen the market in which they are active while planning future strategies allowing a diversification of sales and the growth of the organization. This pragmatism, arisen from the beekeepers’ difficult living conditions (geographical distance, lack of infrastructures and own capital, unstable socioeconomic and political situation, conflicts), is expressed by the participants through a proverb « Don’t put your eggs in the same basket ». For the next module, these same beekeepers are going to present a project, defined and formalized by themselves, which meets their needs and those of their organization. At last, let us call back that this collaboration for the raising awareness of Fairtrade is part of a proactive approach that we consider important in support of small beekeeping organizations (for whom Fairtrade is a lever for development). Thomas GRUBER Xalapa – Mexico 25-03-2012

2 Perquin (Morazan, San Salvador), 24/01/2012
29 April 2012 15:40:07

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