The first group of women beekeepers in the Women for Bees program, a joint initiative by Guerlain and UNESCO, completed their training in the south of France in 2021. Guerlain muse Angelina Jolie, who continues as Godmother of the program, was on hand to officially launch a second six-month training course for the 2022 stage, with 11 apprentice beekeepers identified by the UNESCO team in Phnom Penh in collaboration with the Maddox Jolie-Pitt (MJP) Foundation.
The dual pillars of the Women for Bees program are female entrepreneurship and the preservation of bees. This second cohort will receive both theoretical and practical training, equipping them to manage a sustainable beekeeping operation. They will also learn more about the importance of bees in Khmer history, as well as the singular characteristics of Cambodia’s native honeybees and the challenges of protecting them. Aggelina Kanellopoulou, a 2021 beekeeper graduate, joined Angelina Jolie in Cambodia to share her experience with the new trainees, along with beekeeping best practices.
“This partnership between UNESCO and Guerlain in the Tonle Sap Biosphere reserve as well as in the Samlot district with MJP Foundation will help women to train as beekeepers and be part of a network of other female entrepreneurs worldwide. The ethos of this project is to support local people to conserve their natural resources and develop their communities as they wish to,” says Angelina Jolie.
Wild honey is one of the primary ingredients in traditional medicine in Cambodia, and beeswax is frequently used for blessing ceremonies, and honey hunting is an ancestral activity. Today, however, deforestation, the use of pesticides in agriculture and unsustainable honey hunting practices figure among the main threats to Cambodia’s native honeybee populations. After completing their training, the future beekeepers will be able to cascade their newly acquired knowledge as ambassadors to heighten awareness of the role played by bees in pollinating, which is critical to food security and sustainable management of ecosystems. According to the IPBES Assessment Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production, close to 75% of all food crops and 90% of wild flowering plants depend on pollinators, including bees.
Commenting on this joint initiative with Guerlain, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, says: “One of the key challenges of our century is to reconcile humanity with nature and all living beings. This is precisely the goal of the 727 biosphere reserves designated by UNESCO in 131 countries, where local communities implement sustainable development. The Women for Bees Guerlain x UNESCO program is one example among many initiatives that affirms that reconciliation with nature is not only possible, but in place. It empowers women beekeepers, helps improve livelihoods in vulnerable communities and serves as a model beyond the boundaries of UNESCO biosphere reserves.”