Leydy Pech, an indigenous Mayan who led the coalition that confronted the multinational Monsanto in court to stop the planting of transgenic soybeans, is one of the six winners of the 2020 Goldman Environmental Foundation Award, the highest recognition for environmental activists in the world.
The story of Leydy Pech as a defender of the environment, the territory and the Mayan identity comes from her interest in conserving a small be? e, which has no sting and makes its hives inside hollow trunks, only found in the Yucatan Peninsula. A bee baptized by scientists as Melipona beecheii, but which the Mayans call Xunáan Kab, “the lady of honey.”
A little over two decades ago, Leydy Pech and other Mayan women from the Ich Ek community – Hopelchén municipality, in the southern Mexican state of Campeche – organized to begin rescuing a practice that the ancient Mayans had developed, but that was lost in its territory: meliponiculture, that is, the breeding of the Xunáan Kab to produce honey.
Those “bees” —as Leydy calls them— raised a question that became an engine of action: “How are bees going to be conserved if there are fewer and fewer environmental conditions for them to survive? The bees allowed Leydy to realize everything that was happening in her native territory.
Since then, Leydy Pech – now 55 years old – along with other community members from the Colectivo de Comunidades Mayas de Los Chenes have come a long way that has led them to denounce the environmental, social and cultural consequences that the advance of agribusiness is causing in the municipality of Hopelchén, Campeche, and in other areas of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The battle against transnational giants
Along this path, they have faced large companies such as Monsanto, as well as government agencies that in 2012 granted permits to the company to plant transgenic soybeans, without prior consultations. “I never imagined,” says Pech, “that when we decided to conserve these bees we were going to face so many difficulties.”
In 2015, after lengthy litigation, the Supreme Court of the Nation ruled that the Mexican government violated the constitutional rights of the Mayans by handing over the permits to Monsanto. In 2017, the National Service for Agrifood Health, Safety and Quality revoked the company’s permission to grow genetically modified soybeans in six states of Mexico.
For this achievement and for her work for the defense of the Mayan territory, Leydy Pech is one of the six people who this year obtained the Goldman Prize, an award that since 1989 has been granted by the Goldman Environmental Foundation and which is considered the most important recognition for environmental defenders.
“This award is a recognition of the collective work that has been done in Hopelchén; It is also a great responsibility and a commitment to continue, because during our struggle we have achieved several things, but we still have a lot to do,” says Leydy Pech.
She is discreet in showing her happiness for the award; in her words there is no fuss, no rush or hesitation in her voice. In her sentences the plural predominates: “As happened with the Supreme Court ruling, this recognition proves us with rights, indicating that we are on the right track.”