When the Going Gets Tough, Just Add Honey

Indigenous families in the Chaco region of Paraguay were already experiencing a challenging situation with corporate land grabs and deforestation restricting their ability to live off the land.  Add the additional challenges of drought, a dengue fever outbreak, and a global pandemic and things sound pretty grim.  They are.  But a new Church World Service (CWS) program’s focus on beekeeping has already helped people in 16 indigenous villages in the region improve their food security and income.

The Gran Chaco, the biggest forest reserve on the South American continent after the Amazon, is a major (though endangered) ecosystem, and also home to 25 different indigenous ethnic groups. They have lived here for centuries, and traditionally had many ways to earn a living, including hunting, fishing, gathering fruit and honey, and making and selling crafts. This rugged lifestyle was largely possible because they could move freely across the vast region: if there was a drought or disaster, for example, they could move to another area and other livelihood opportunities. When the fences started going up for extensive grain and cattle ranching operations, the people were forced to adapt. They’re still fishing and hunting where they can, but also cultivating vegetable gardens and raising livestock. Part of the CWS program includes beekeeping, honey production and marketing strategies.

The communities say that the beekeeping has become a lifeline during these challenging times. Families sell honey to non-indigenous neighbors and earn money for their most basic needs. As CWS puts it, “We knew, of course, that the honey would help families add to their income and ultimately build resilience. We never imagined that we would see it make a life-changing difference so quickly.”

This three-year program partners with 588 Chaco families to improve their access to water and food. The program will provide culturally‐sensitive technical assistance in farming and livestock, and support indigenous‐led advocacy efforts to local governments for infrastructure and health benefits.

Paraguay Lower Chaco Program
Led by Church World Service

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