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La apicultora maya Leydy Pech lleva diez años enfrentándose al azote medioambiental del gigante de la soja. Photo: AIDA
Mayan beekeeper Leydy Pech has faced the environmental scourge of the soybean giant for 10 years. Photo: AIDA

Leydy Pech, the "honey lady" who stopped Monsanto

The Mayan beekeeper collected a Goldman Prize on Nov. 23 for her work protecting bees and against transgenic crops in Mexico.

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"Oh, I can't believe this little woman beat us," said a Monsanto lawyer leaving the courthouse. He was referring to Leydy Pech (55), a Mayan beekeeper from Campeche, Mexico, who performed a historic feat in 2017: it was the first time an indigenous community won a legal battle against the agrochemical giant. 

For Pech's struggle and that of the coalition she leads — Sin Transgénicos — in defense of the environment and the life of bees and their sustainable development, she has awarded a Goldman Prize. But this is not the beginning of the story, nor the end, unfortunately.

It all began in early 2000, when Leydy saw how the multinational corporation Monsanto had begun to cultivate small plots of genetically modified soy in Campeche, in the southeast of Mexico. It's where the indigenous woman had learned her beekeeping techniques. Twelve years later, these were no longer small-scale crops, but large-scale agricultural projects that contaminated the honey she produced and put food, the environment and, in short, the way of life of her community at risk.

That same year, Pech decided to create the coalition, Sin Transgénicos, and filed a lawsuit against the government to stop the cultivation of GM soy. But it took at least three years for the Supreme Court to recognize the executive branch of government had to carry out prior consultations with indigenous communities before allowing the planting of modified seeds. 

Finally, after many obstacles, Monsanto's cultivation license was revoked in seven states, including Campeche and Yucatán. 

"It has not only been a fight against Monsanto, but against the whole model of agro-industrial development that has been imposed on Mexico and that is harming us," said the beekeeper, who many call the "guardian of the bees" or the "honey lady."

Leydy is an expert on Melipona beecheii, a species of bees native to Campeche that have no stingers and the Mayans cultivated for generations. In the village of Hopelchén where she lives, she manages a few Melipona apiaries along with other women in the area. 

Deforestation and industrial agriculture has severely affected the entire Yucatán Peninsula, but she continues to promote sustainable development practices in rural areas, 10 years after she began her great battle. 

"The historic struggle of Pech and the coalition sets precedents in Mexico, and is already a model for other movements of indigenous struggle for the protection of their rights and the defense and management of the land," noted Goldman Prize organizers in presenting the award.

The Goldman Prize, granted by the Goldman Environmental Foundation, annually recognizes environmentalists from each of the world's six inhabited continents, rewarding their environmental activism and leadership. This year the ceremony was held virtually and was hosted by actress Sigourney Weaver.

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