NUEVO BERLIN, Uruguay – The buzzing of bees is never far away on the islands dotting river that divides Uruguay and Argentina, and the unique honey these animals produce relies on the hard work of those living along its banks.
This is the case for Miguel Sosa, known locally as Don Miguel, and his family, who for the last 10 years have dedicated themselves to extracting honey by hand near their village of Nuevo Berlin, in western Uruguay.
From his humble residence in the village, Don Miguel has to travel an hour and a half by canoe to make it to the island where he keeps his hives in the middle of the river, he tells EFE.
There, in hives raised above the ground, he tends to bees and the sweet, organic honey they produce.
From September to March, the family lives for honey.
They acknowledge the job requires a lot of sacrifices, such as having to spend days at a time living on the isolated island, but insist that it brings a lot of pleasure, too.
“We are about an hour and a half’s travel away and we cannot come and go every day. We have a little hut there (on the island) and we stay there,” Sosa, whose business is called Apiarios Don Miguel, says.
Back on dry land, he removes the honey from the honeycomb, packages it and labels it by hand.
The honey arrives boat by boat to the small factory the family runs by the shores of the river.
Sosa’s honey is dark and flavorful, the hallmark style of honey from the islands on the Uruguay River. He sells it to regional companies as well as some in the capital, Montevideo.
The secret, Sosa insists, is that the bees have access to a rich variety of flowers and live far enough away from polluted cities.
Apiarios Don Miguel can produce up to 20 barrels of honey – equivalent to roughly 12,000 kilos – in a good season.
The wetlands and islands on the river are a protected ecosystem home to more than 200 species of birds, 30 mammals, 14 reptiles, eight amphibians and a number of insects, including butterflies and bees.
Angel Lozano, a ranger at the Esteros de Farrapos and Uruguay River Islands National Park, said the area covered 17,000 hectares, some 6,000 on the mainland, the rest over the 17 islands between Uruguay and Argentina.
Limited human activity, such as fishing or apiculture, are permitted in the protected area.
For this reason, he said, it was important for local people to learn about conservation.
“The results are in sight. People are beginning to learn what a protected area is and the benefits they can get from it.”