Juventud y Clubes 4-H announced the “Honey Bee Challenge,” an educational experience for Puerto Rico’s children and youth that teaches them about this insect’s pivotal role in the island’s ecosystems, as well as the agricultural industry.
University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Professor Judith Conde Pacheco, Program Area Leader for 4-H, explained to THE WEEKLY JOURNAL that the initiative was developed under “Reto Agrícola” (Agricultural Challenge), a program that introduces students to the expansive spectrum that comprises agriculture, including STEM fields. Meanwhile, 4-H is a branch of the Agricultural Extension Service of the UPR’s Mayagüez Campus.
“[The Honey Bee Challenge] is a new opportunity that we are going to offer to Puerto Rican children and youth; not only to those who participate in 4-H, but this time it is open to all children who want to register to participate in this Agricultural Challenge, which basically consists of educating our youth about the importance of pollinators. In particular, we are going to focus on bees and the role they play in agriculture and the role they play for food production in the country,” Conde Pacheco said.
Edda Martínez, an entomologist, added that she aims to demystify the negative perception that students may have on insects. “In this particular project that we are working on... we want to teach students that 75 percent of plants depend on pollinators and that most of the food that we consume depend on the results of the labor of these pollinators,” she said.
Moreover, the coordinators of this challenge affirmed that by introducing students to these concepts and offering a different perspective on agriculture, they aim to foster a new generation of scientists, farmers and leaders in the industry.
As previously reported by THE WEEKLY JOURNAL, Agriculture contributed only 0.78 percent of Puerto Rico’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018.
According to the May 2019 data compiled by the Occupational Employment Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly salary for this sector in its totality was $10.38, while the annual median salary was $21,600. However, unlike other U.S. jurisdictions, Puerto Rico doesn’t break down the industry into sectors, thus offering limited insight. For instance, the Economic Research Institute states that the average annual salary for an entomologist in Puerto Rico, adjusted to the reality of COVID-19, is estimated at $54,422, with the potential to increase to $60,057 by 2025 (10 percent growth).
“What we are doing is exposing youth to the labor market of agricultural sciences, which is a world of opportunities,” agronomist Alberto Maldonado stated, adding that some students who have participated in 4-H initiatives are now doing their university studies in marine biology, horticulture and other disciplines that are valued in the industry.
Conde Pacheco explained that this program, as well as other 4-H initiatives, seeks to inspire a “generational takeover” on agriculture.
“We need a generational takeover; that is one of our goals: Consolidating through youth a new voice that can believe in agriculture and make it grow... We know that this is tied to the important issue of food security in the country. This challenge gives us the opportunity to discuss several topics with participants and their mentors; we want them to spread the word,” she added.
The Honey Bee Challenge is made possible by a collaboration with Corteva Agriscience. 4-H is accepting up to 200 students from K-12 to university levels, with hopes of eventually extending the program and reaching even more students. The website to register, disclosed on 4-H’s Facebook page, will be available to applicants until Oct. 23 or until vacancies are filled. The program itself is scheduled for Dec. 18, subject to changes.