One woman’s fight against a multi-national conglomerate.
After the winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize (the “Nobel Prize for the environment”) were announced in 2020, the world was let on to the extraordinary story of Leydy Pech.
A Mayan beekeeper who crossed paths with the agrochemical giant, Monsanto.
And in the end, prevailed.
For Mayan communities in the Mexican state of Campeche beekeeping is a millennial tradition and a strong part of their identity.
The production of honey and beeswax from the Melipona bee (Xunan Kav in the local language) supports about 25,000 families, making Mexico the sixth largest honey producer in the world.
In this ecosystem, the interests of local communities are aligned with those of sustainable agricultural practices: the area’s richness in highly biodiverse tropical forests creates favourable conditions for bees.
The survival of these delicate ecosystems is jeopardised by intensive agriculture, which has caused a surge in the rate of deforestation in recent years.
In Campeche alone, 380 square kilometres of forest have already been destroyed.
Mexico is a prominent market for Monsanto – acquired by the pharmaceutical company Bayer in 2018 – which introduced the first genetically modified soybean crops together with herbicides in 2000.
The active ingredient sprayed on crops is glyphosate, widely adopted all over the world starting from the 1970s and which is at the centre of numerous scientific studies that highlight its risks for human health.
After over ten years of trials, in 2012 the Mexican government gave way to GM soybean crops being adopted in seven states, including Campeche and Yucatán.
However, one of the conditions included was the requirement to consult indigenous communities, in order to fulfil its obligations under the country’s Constitution and the ILO’s Convention 169.
This is where Pech came into play.
Her determination to protect the lands her family had lived on for generations led to a decade-long fight against the agricultural giant.
One that the Mayan peoples would win in the end.
DAVID VS GOLIATH
So just how was Leydy Pech able to do the seemingly impossible?
Her campaign would bring together beekeepers, environmentalists and NGOs under the umbrella of the Sin Transgénicos (“GMO-free”) Coalition, taking legal action against the government.
In the meantime, she made contact with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, whose study backed up claims that local honey had been contaminated by GM soy.
Working in collaboration with the UNDP, researchers even found traces of glyphosate in Hopelchén residents’ drinking water, as well as urine.
Data at hand, Pech responded by organising a series of workshops, meetings, petitions and demonstrations involving the local population.
In November 2015, the Mexican Supreme Court reached a unanimous verdict: the government unlawfully proceeded in authorising the cultivation of GMOs without having first consulted indigenous communities.
In September 2017, the country’s food and agriculture authorities revoked Monsanto’s permits.
See the incredible story here:
Pech’s determination has been recognised and is being celebrated in the eyes of the world.
“Today is a historic day for the Maya people,” she stated upon receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize.
“The award gives me the opportunity to tell the world that the territories of indigenous peoples are being dispossessed by extractive mega-projects, agro-industry, tourism and others that strengthen a capitalist model that affects natural resources and our way of life.
“I call on all governments and world leaders to rethink more comprehensive development models that respect and recognise human rights, autonomy, self-determination of indigenous peoples and ancestral heritage”.
An incredible story of determination and true love for the planet.
If we had more people in the world like Pech, and not greedy resource imperialists like Monsanto, it would undoubtedly be a better place.
Perhaps we could see something similar in Australia one day?
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