When the Miel Mexicana Volcan Popocatépetl cooperative was founded in 2001, its members produced just 3 tonnes of honey. Now it exports over 500 tonnes of certified organic and fair-trade honey to 10 different countries every year.

Though the cooperative works in ten Mexican states, it is based in Morelos, in southern Mexico, and most of its beekeepers work in the foothills of the snow-capped Popocatépetl volcano, Mexico’s second-highest peak. Though traditionally a honey-producing area, the local honey was not always very high quality, and was often contaminated by toxic residues and antibiotics given to the bees.

In contrast, the Miel Mexicana Volcán Popocatépetl cooperative has been certified organic since 2004, and has always worked hard to make sure its 42 members produce only the highest quality honey. Nine different types are produced from local plants—sunflower, chamomile, mesquite, orange, avocado, cactus, Mexican lilac, campanula and morning glory. The cooperative also markets propolis, beeswax, pollen and royal jelly. Over 90% of the annual production is exported to Europe, Japan and the United States, while just 10% remains in Mexico and is distributed by companies specializing in organic products. Fair-trade certification has helped the cooperative reach international markets. Over the years it has won many national and international awards for exports, sustainability, technology transfer, best practices and honey quality.

“The cooperative unites indigenous people, women, elderly, youth and adults. All the beekeepers are small producers with limited resources,” said Beate Heims, who has been working with Miel Mexicana Volcan Popocatépetl as a consultant for five years. She believes that they have found a formula for a successful social enterprise that is transferable and replicable. Long-term viability is integrated with economical, ecological and social aspects, with an emphasis on sustainability, training and fair trade. “Achieving a synergy between these factors is resulting in international competitiveness and organizational consolidation,” she said.

The cooperative’s benefits extend beyond its members: free training is given to around 80 beekeepers in different states every year. The cooperative also develops social projects to promote sustainable development, aiming to improve family and community livelihoods and protect the environment through the application of its core values of solidarity, responsibility and respect.

One of the cooperative’s goals is to create jobs to help stem migration to the United States. Says Beate: “Many Mexican men are working illegally in the USA, they earn more money and send the money back to their families in Mexico. This breaks the very important structure of the family and leaves whole towns without men.” The cooperative is proud of the fact that since 2003 there has been zero migration of its beekeepers to the United States.