Origin Story Interview W/ Ana Rosa de Lima, Meli Bees

Origin Story Interview W/ Ana Rosa de Lima, Meli Bees

Brighter Future


Feb 16, 2023

#BrighterFuture #entrepreneurship #Sustainability #ClimateChangeSolution #originstoryseries #seekthechange #AmazonRainforest #IndigenousCommunities #MeliBees #NativeBeekeeping #CulturalIdentity #RegenerativePractices

Brighter Future

Today, we are happy to be sharing the story of Ana Rosa de Lima, the founder of the non-profit Meli Bees.

Thank you so much for being here with us, Ana. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your new non-profit?

I'm Ana Rosa de Lima. I'm Brazilian, and I grew up in the Amazon Rainforest. After I finished my studies, in 2016, I moved to Germany to work as a researcher at the University. After a few years working here, I started a non-profit organisation that builds an international impact network to support communities in developing regenerative practices for their areas. We support indigenous communities in the Amazon and, at the same time, educate locals in Germany to better understand the region.

We work with three different layers in the connection of the communities. First, we understand their context, wishes, hopes, and dreams and listen to their stories and challenges. With this information, we develop regenerative solutions that positively impact both nature and the community. Secondly, we work with regenerative agriculture, native beekeeping, and forest protection by empowering local producers, supporting the creation of biodiverse products and helping protect the primary forest. Thirdly, we raise international awareness of the work developed by these communities. We wish to help these people feel happy and proud of their work. So, for example, we have already organised exhibitions in Europe where we shared photos and the stories of a community.

That’s fantastic. We’re looking forward to hearing more. But before we get further, would you mind telling us what your roots are like, and what your path was before your current career?

My mom connected me with the deep Amazon, and my father with social justice in the Arc of Deforestation. They both witnessed the changes due to deforestation. I grew up with it, seeing the destruction of our forests for crop cultivation and cattle ranching.

I studied Materials Engineering and researched projects related to mining production. At the end of my studies, I worked on research to disclose the relationship between mining and heavy metals leaking into rivers and polluting indigenous areas. Rather than just being passionate, I tried to understand the reality and issues in the area, the troubles of indigenous communities, and the complexity of growing up in an area that should have been forest but is not anymore.

My mum gave me indigenous heritage, and my father works for the government supporting smallholder production. I grew up seeing the different points of view from these two sides, indigenous and non-indigenous smallholders/campesino communities. I realised they need to communicate better and reach an agreement because right now, they co-exist with a lot of prejudice against each other, but are both suffering due to the same reasons, the “economic progress” that wants to go against our biodiversity. We need to rethink our ideas about progress and civilisation.

We certainly agree with that here at Brighter Future. What do you think led you to create Meli Bees?

I had a podcast while I was working at the university which helped me crowdfund the initial stages of what later developed to be Meli Bees. That’s when I understood people’s interest in supporting indigenous beekeeping and realised the potential of this project.

My aim was always to strengthen the indigenous communities so they could have better tools and be better prepared to protect the forest. While these communities were already doing a great job, they were still risking their lives. Their work could be done more safely. I wished to help them secure their livelihood, to generate wealth through agriculture, while, at the same time, respecting and acknowledging the community's culture and identity.

That’s a beautiful project. The best protectors of a place are the people who live there. With Meli Bees, what kind of future are you trying to help create?

I envision a future where biodiversity is better understood, where indigenous communities guide us through this understanding while also securing their livelihoods. So, for example, I envision native bees being discovered and named by the community that found them, which then cooperates in additional research.

What experience gave you the perspective and the confidence to start Meli Bees?

It was a process of everything building up in my life until now. The crowdfunding from the podcast helped me deliver some native beekeeping workshops for a community, but I could see this was only the start: the podcast and crowdfunding got people engaged, showing the global willingness for regenerative change.

I could see all the interest and hope they were putting into my projects. We started a WhatsApp group, and there are currently more than 150 people in it from various indigenous, maroon and campesino communities. The group also has professors, biologists, and so on. So by the end of 2020, I officially founded Meli Bees.

Seeing people's hope was very important to me. When entering the low moments in your project, you can look back and see the positive impact it can deliver to the ones in need. It can re-energise you. For example, some indigenous community members have told me we bring hope to their organisation. Before the project, they had stopped considering the possibility of sustainably protecting the forest and securing their livelihoods. It’s so nice just to think that we helped bring this hope back to them. But honestly, they’re the ones who bring me hope, because they’re the ones who keep inspiring me and showing me what’s possible.

That’s so great. I think that’s what they call a “virtuous cycle.” What would you say is the most fulfilling part of your work?

To see how much the communities believe in this work. In the first year of activities, we saw that engaged communities did better than those who didn't, so our first project was to branch out into different communities. We found out that the community that engaged more in our networking activities had their results multiplied by 10.

We saw how important it is to have this relationship and trust base with the community. It is now a core part of Meli as it has reframed our perspective on how to work with communities. We now focus on the community and building relationships that make a difference in the results.

What was your biggest challenge with Meli Bees?

In the first year, we did projects with both super-engaged communities and projects in which the community could have responded a little better. I tried to understand why this was happening. I realised that we first need to build a relationship and win the trust of the community, then further help in its development.

In one of our first projects, we engaged with the community first and planted twice the number of seeds we had initially intended to plant. That was great, but in another project, they didn't even reach their initial seed-planting target.

It showed me we needed to do extra work with the community before the project could start. This realisation was a blow, but at the same time, a big educational moment. But getting funding for building relationships within a community takes a lot of work. We need to understand it's not just about the number of trees you plant, it’s also about how effective your work is - and community engagement is what makes work effective.

What are the mistakes that you made throughout your journey?

Starting an organisation can be difficult. It can be challenging to communicate clearly and build a team that supports you. Meli has two teams: the communities that need to be engaged and the teams at work in their communities.

And you and your colleagues can end up overworked which then becomes a big problem. You always need to strive for work-life balance and understand how to achieve it.

Were there any big “Aha!” moments or epiphanies you had throughout your journeys?

Seeing how community engagement was crucial for any project to be developed was a big “Aha!”, but it was also important to understand the value of supporting the community to grow and develop on its own, to help them to organise themselves, and to be more independent, so that they could progress and achieve results by themselves.

Everybody should understand that the Amazon is an urban forest with many people living in it; they are the best ones to protect it. There is no sustainable development without involving the communities that live in the region and understand it best. They have the wisdom on how to best protect it and use its resources.

Was there a point in your life where you did something different than what you had first planned?

I moved and lived around Brazil and saw different locations and perspectives, which was important to me. I was living in regions that were not what one would call the highlights of Brazil, with no big cities or popular areas. It influenced my perspective on all the regions I came from, not just my ideas about minority groups. And when I moved to Europe, I began to find similarities between Brazilian culture and the cultures of the world’s more northern parts. All these experiences have allowed me to understand the complexity of minority groups and areas.

Did you have any books or speeches, movies you watched, or people you came across that inspired you and your journey?

Going to the Xikrin indigenous community in the Amazon was a big moment for me. They were not the first indigenous community I visited, but they were the community the furthest away from the city that I best engaged with. They're close to the mining production, which meant that the community issues were complex.

A film that inspired me is called Pureza (2022, by Renato Barbieri). It is based on a true story about a person named Pureza and focuses on respect for human rights. Pureza went on a journey to find her son, who was a modern enslaved person in the cattle production that occurs in the Amazon. As you find out how it happens, it helps you to understand the region and the complexity of this new kind of organisation— large-scale cattle ranching— that has come to the Amazon.

Some books have helped me in this process, like “Memoirs of an Indigenous, almost an autobiography” (free translation from Memórias de um Índio, uma quase autobiografia, 2016) from Daniel Munduruku. The author shares some of his experiences as an indigenous moving to the city to study and it’s moving how he describes his experience of being pushed to deny his cultural background and start calling himself a “civilised Brazilian”.

That’s truly tragic. We are sincerely sorry to hear about this kind of thing, and we hope the situation improves for the indigenous peoples of Brazil. On the subject of difficulties, did you have to make any significant personal sacrifices or compromises to get where you are today?

Unfortunately, working with some non-profit organisations can take time and effort, I was overworked. At the same time, the financial compromise to work in the non-profit sector is large.

Understandable. How do you think you would like to be remembered by your family and friends? And what would you want future generations to take from your journey?

Things are possible, but sometimes it might be difficult to see it. The fact that I was abroad helped me develop alternative thinking— my friends now tell me that I see possibilities that they didn't see before.

It's unfortunate how people who are very engaged with nature, like friends from my university in the Amazon, end up working in cattle production because they don't have any other job options in the region. There are always other ways to be productive and to lead positive change in life. We can fully work with diverse productions based on biodiversity and support biodiversity without going against it.

Is there any advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are just starting or thinking of starting something?

They say the journey of an entrepreneur is a lonely one, and that is correct. It is a challenging journey, so it’s good to be prepared for that loneliness, but surrounded by people you trust and who give you hope. You need to gather a lot of strength as there are many ups and downs, and it's important to have them. Even though sometimes you may need to change your precise path, if you have a clear direction, you can reach your goals.

If there was one message that could reach the whole planet, what would that be?

That the people of the Amazon are ready to protect it.

That’s so inspiring to hear. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us today, and we wish you the greatest possible success in your efforts to safeguard the Amazon, its bees and wider biodiversity, and its indigenous peoples.

To learn more about Meli Bees, please visit www.meli-bees.org.

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