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06 May 2010

The Bittersweet Dreams of Uruguay's Beekeepers

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Beekeepers in the small South American country of Uruguay are facing climate change and a complex web of problems that threaten their livelihoods

In the last few years, prolonged droughts followed by flooding have compounded the high costs of fuel, a weakening dollar that has hurt the competitiveness of local exporters, an increase in the area planted in transgenic soy, and the growing use of pesticides and herbicides that pose a threat to beehives.

Liliana Rodríguez, a psychologist by profession, has been keeping bees since she was 20. That was three decades ago, when she met her husband, who has worked as a beekeeper since the age of 16. Grandparents now, they have kept thousands of beehives on different fields around this small country of 3.3 million people located between Brazil and Argentina.

"It all started when I met Ignacio," Rodríguez told IPS. "We both had jobs -- he worked in a real estate agency and I was in ANCAP (the state oil company) -- but our dream was to set up a beekeeping business while we raised a family.

"At that time, nature was stable, and my husband's production projections were always exactly on target," she said. "That was the best gauge I had in the last 30 years. Until nature started changing, in a negative sense. As the years went by, my husband was no longer able to accurately predict how many kilos of honey we would harvest."

Scientific studies forecast that in the next 10 to 15 years, the climate in Uruguay will start moving from sub-tropical to tropical, which will affect agricultural production and thus the economy, which is largely based on agricultural exports.

As a result of the climate changes that have already been seen, average honey production per hive, which had been growing, began to level off, to the point that "we had to reach the decision to reduce the number of hives, because of the shrinking cost-benefit ratio," Rodríguez said.

(IPS News)

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