Yateí: the native bee that heals, feeds and preserves the environment
Its honey was incorporated into the Argentine Food Code and will be consolidated as a genuine resource for communities in the north of the country. Through ethnobiology, CONICET researchers study its uses and cultural importance.
Until a few months ago, the Argentine Food Code indicated that honey was the product from worker bees , referring to the species Apis mellífera, native to Europe and distributed throughout the world. A recent modification incorporated into this category the substance produced by the Meliponas Tetragonisca fiebrigi, popularly known as yateí or ruby, making it a genuine resource for many communities in the north of the country that have been breeding and using these insects for several centuries.
Honey from native bees without stinger is used as medicine and as food, both by groups of native peoples and by descendants of immigrants, according to several studies carried out during the last decade by CONICET researchers in different provinces. In addition to highlighting its cultural and nutritional importance, they ensure that maintaining and enhancing the breeding of meliponas can help the conservation of the environment, by preserving fragments of native forests that, in turn, will serve as support for the recovery of species.
To achieve the incorporation of yatei honey into the national code, multiple actions were needed from different community, government and academic sectors. “It required a multidisciplinary team work, which was very long and intense, similar to the one that these bees make to produce their honey,” compares the independent researcher of CONICET at the Instituto de Biología Subtropical (IBS, CONICET — UnaM), Norma Hilgert .
It is that to produce just a liter of honey, a colony composed of 5,000 bees works a whole year. This makes the production of yatei a highly prized commodity for communities, where they either use it selectively for specific purposes or sell it at more than $100 per litre.
According to the cultural group and the species of bee that thrives in each environment, studies conducted by CONICET researchers have reported more than 400 different uses of honeys – alone or combined with plants – ranging from the treatment of infections in the skin or respiratory system to the cure of cataracts. “It is also used as a supplement to strengthen the immune system of children. For example, it is very common to give children a teaspoon of yatei honey before going to school,” says Hilgert, who for several years has been involved in studies related to native meliponas from ethnobiology.
One honey for each region
In Argentina, meliponas are distributed mainly in the northern provinces, reaching even some regions of Catamarca and Buenos Aires. Misiones is the one with the greatest trajectory in the exploitation of this resource and for more than 30 years has been promoting workshops on the management of bees in which, together with the inhabitants, the best practices of breeding are defined, the methods for moving a nest from a tree to a box are established and the moment is evaluated. suitable to start harvesting.
Despite this vast experience, the enterprises linked to yatei honey did not achieve the development expected in recent decades because production could not be formally commercialized. The incorporation of the Code is the first step towards achieving the certifications and registrations needed to be sold in official markets.
The next instance in the process of valorization of honey production, the researchers explain, is the characterization by regions. “We have evidence that these bee
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