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This story originally appeared on Unknown Mexico
Leydy bad luck, a local Mayan beekeeper, led a coalition to end the cultivation of genetically modified soybeans Monsanto in seven states of the country. For his defense of the environment and the autonomy of indigenous peoples and honey, he won the “Nobel Prize” for the environment: 2020 Goldman Prize Recipient North America.
Laydy Pech with the Goldman Prize winner North America / Image: Via México Desconocido
Who is Leydy Pech?
Mayan blood runs through the veins of Leydy Pech, 55, and her love for honey and defending her land is the engine of her days. He learned to look after the land as ancestral heir and his stance in defending indigenous autonomy has managed to stop projects that pollute the earth and kill bees.
Of course, there are legal complications that have not yet been fully resolved so her work as an activist continues.
In the statement they report on the award, it says:
Pech has concentrated its beekeeping practice on melipona bees (Melipona beecheii). As a member of Koolel-Kab / Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry cooperative made up exclusively of Maya women, she also promotes the sustainable development of rural Maya communities.
An interview with him as part of a documentary that was shown at the independent film festival Ambulante over the past few months gives a report on his work and his mission.
For these Mayan women, honey is much more than food, it is identity. Some data can put this fact into perspective:
Pollution from growing genetically modified soybeans
In 2000, Monsanto began growing experimental plots of genetically modified soybeans in Mexico. In 2010 and 2011 the government elevated these projects to “pilot projects”.
Leydy Pech Martín is surrounded by the flower of the Tajonal / Image: Via México Desconocido
The transgenic soybeans used by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) are known as “Roundup Ready,” an indication of the plant’s programmed genetic tolerance to high doses of the herbicide Roundup (also a Monsanto product). The main ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate, a likely carcinogen that is also linked to miscarriages and birth defects.
In 2012, without consulting local Maya communities, the Mexican government granted Monsanto permission to grow transgenic soybeans in the following seven states:
- Quintana Roo
- San Luis Potosi
It soon became clear that transgenic plants were contaminating the local honey in Campeche, threatening the food supply, the environment, and the livelihood of Mayan communities.
Leydy Pech in the ruins of Campeche / Image: Via México Desconocido
The mobilization led by bad luck
In June 2012, Pech brought beekeepers, NGOs and environmentalists together in a coalition known as Sin Transgenicos (non-GMOs). He led the group in filing a lawsuit against the Mexican government to stop growing transgenic soybeans.
His case was based on the fact that neither the government nor Monsanto consulted the indigenous communities before approving the permits, in violation of the Mexican Constitution and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization.
Koolel-Kaab “Women who work with bees” is a group of women from the city of Ich Ek / Photo: Via México Desconocido.
Pech turned to academic institutions to document the effects of growing genetically modified soy on honey, the environment and people.
The Autonomous University conducted a study of genetically modified soy production in Campeche, in which Monsanto conducted a pilot project that confirmed that genetically modified soy pollen was present in the local honey supply.
The UNAM and the UN Development Program have also recorded the effects of glyphosate and found traces of the herbicide in Hopelchén’s water supplies and in urban residents’ urine.
Melipona bees from Campeche / Photo: Via México Desconocido
With this data, Pech and the Maya collective launched a public relations and awareness campaign for local communities and government officials about the negative effects of transgenic soy production.
They organized a series of workshops for activists and organizations to share information and research, launched petitions and simultaneously organized protests in seven Maya ceremonial centers on the Yucatán Peninsula with around 2,000 participants.
In November 2015, in response to the coalition’s lawsuit, the Mexican Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the government must consult indigenous communities before planting transgenic soybeans. The ruling effectively revoked Monsanto’s permits and banned the cultivation of transgenic soybeans in Campeche and Yucatán.
Koolel-Kaab “Women Who Work with Bees” is a group of women from the city of Ich Ek who have been caring for and maintaining the melipona bee or the native Mayan bee since 1995. They are currently known for their trajectory in defending the territory and fighting transgenic plants. Its products come from beekeeping.
The women of Koolel-Kaab have dedicated themselves to the care and maintenance of the Melipona or native Mayan bee since 1995 / Image: Via México Desconocido
And in September 2017, thanks to Pech’s organization, the Mexican Food and Agriculture Service revoked Monsanto’s permission to grow genetically modified soybeans in seven states. This decision marks the first time the Mexican government has taken official measures to protect communities and the environment from genetically modified crops.
What Leydy Pech and her community have won
The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the government was violating the Mayan constitutional rights by not consulting them about soybean cultivation, which is why it stopped growing GM soybeans in the seven states in September 2017.
However, there are illegal plantings and the legal case has not been fully won. Therefore, support for the Mayan communities must be full and energetic so that their sovereignty and autonomy is respected by all levels of government and by all Mexicans.