History of Honey in Panama
We can speculate that honey has most probably been eaten in Panama as long has man has been here, and that it was obtained either by:
- Farming insects, in much the same way that Indigenous Indians keep colonies of endemic stingless bees in structures like gourds hanging from their houses
- Foraging in the forest for honey insect nests in trees or buried in the ground. The comb can be harvested and squeezed to release the honey.
Modern beekeeping came to Panama with Hermann Gnaegi. Hermann came to Panama from Switzerland in 1937 with Nestle to the village of Nata bringing with him a beehive with Italian bees. History relates the locals often remarked “Here we have a truly crazy gringo who keeps flies locked up”.
Between 1941 and 1965 Hermann worked for Nestle in Columbia. After returning, on 24th July 1966 he founded the Bee Association of Panama, partnering with a Cuban expert called Raul Lorenzo Luaces. This partnership can be considered the foundation of modern beekeeping in Panama.
Together, they taught a number of Panamanians about beekeeping including some of the leaders of the industry in Panama today. Their students included: Juan Malivern, Carlos Garcia, Bernabe Rodriguez, Ramiro Candanedo, Gilbert Johnson, Pedro Barragan, Augusto Sanchez, Rafael Quezada, Jose Pena, Richard Barnette, Yoldanda Sucre, Clotilde Gonzalez.
In the 1980s Gnaegi was able to make the first exports of Panamanian honey to Germany and Switzerland. Two hundred tons of honey were distributed in Europe.
At that time Boquete’s own Maria Teresa Ruiz was Panama’s single largest honey producer. With the help of government grants she had over 1000 colonies and had built relationships in the United States to export honey.
In the 1970s and early 1980s the business in Panama was thriving. Panamanian honey was gaining recognition in the world for quality and the future looked very promising. An example of this was the Corpachi honey, which won prizes in International honey competitions in Germany and the United States.
However, the arrival of the African bees from Columbia in the early 1980s changed the beekeeping paradigm in Panama. It was a huge catastrophe from which the country has not yet recovered. Almost 75% of the domestic producers disappeared unable to adapt to the new aggressive strains of bees.
Since the introduction of African bees, beekeeping has remained in the hands of relatively few skilled beekeepers.