To think of bees and flowers simultaneously is logical. That is why it is surprising to see that these insects can survive in the middle of the Chilean desert of Atacama.
There, in Arica, very close to the frontier with Peru, lives the entrepreneur Edith Elgueta. She sells the honey and propolis that her bees extract from the native flora, nourished by underground aquifers. It is quite a sight to see the hives, perched between enormous sand dunes, in an almost lunar landscape, where it looks as though life could not flourish while the bees’ buzzing breaks the silence.
“Living in the desert is a challenge because you have to learn to live without water, to deal with the changes in climate, the stark difference in temperature between night and day. But it isn’t a problem for me: the desert offers a kind of wealth that I can live on”, explains Edith.
She never thought she would get involved in apiculture. But one day she decided that she didn’t want to live in a polluted city; she saw a business opportunity and left her job as a municipal civil servant to take up beekeeping. That was the beginning of Colmenares Pío Martín.
The honey production, which she collects according to lunar cycles, is 100% natural and without heavy metals. She has won several awards and certifications, both domestic and international and also exports abroad. She has taken courses in naturopathy, magnet therapy, radiesthesia using a pendulum, with which she says she restores electromagnetic fields, homeopathy and healthy nutrition. Edith applies these treatments for her clients in a natural medicine therapy center she has set up near the hives.
She tries to make her business as sustainable as possible: she doesn’t use chemical products, neither to ward off other animals from the hives, nor to clean her tools, and her regular customers return the glass jars after they have eaten the honey. “It is a circular economy system. I am self-sustainable and sustainable”, says Edith.
Technology to break down barriers
Living in the desert entails doing without certain things, but technology enables Edith to shorten the distances and show her products to the world, thanks to internet and social media. In these corners connectivity is essential for any kind of personal or commercial interaction. Her internet connection means she can do courses in administrative management, stock control and accounting. She connects to the free online training platform that Fondo Esperanza, BBVA Microfinance Foundation’s Chilean institution, makes available to the over 112,000 entrepreneurs it serves.
Continuous training is one of the core areas of the integrated microfinance service provided by Fondo Esperanza. Courses in digital skills are specific modules that improve entrepreneurs’ inclusion in the digital world, which is often a closed book to them. Every entrepreneur advances at their own pace with the training content, depending on the time they have available and the needs of the business.
“The training program is very simple to use and very interactive – it has videos that explain things. It’s important to know about finance, accounting, and product pricing. They’ve taught us how to make the most of social media. In the middle of the desert, I go online with my tablet, thanks to a booster antenna, from my home or my business premises. Nowadays it’s important to invest in technology. I’m in a very inhospitable area, but I am connected … and I make sales; people all over the world know me”, Edith shares.
For her, the combination of technology and training is fundamental for growing her business, in terms of customer numbers and performance. She has lots of ideas about how to progress and to keep her independent spirit: “Women have to protect their freedom and their independence. They shouldn’t rely on anyone, they should depend on themselves”, she declares with determination. It is that determination which led her to set up beehives in the desert when very few would have embarked on such an adventure.
Cristina González del Pino. BBVAMF Communications