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OCA Mexico Defends Maya Beekeepers from Monsanto

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Cencos Press Conference

Press conference. In the picture: María Colin Greenpeace Mexico, Rodrigo Llanes, Colegio de Antropólogos de Yucatán, Valeria Enríquez, OCA Mexico and Edmundo del Pozo, Fundar.

The art of beekeeping in Maya communities can be traced back centuries. Beekeepers pass the skill down from one generation to the next.

For these indigenous communities in Mexico’s Campeche and Yucatán regions, beekeeping isn’t just a tradition or a hobby. For many, it’s a livelihood. 

And that livelihood is now being threatened by Monsanto.

On July 13, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) Mexico, Greenpeace Mexico, the Colegio de Antropólogos de Yucatán (School of Anthropology of Yucatán)  and Fundar Research Center held a press conference to expose the ongoing collusion between Monsanto and Mexican government authorities to deprive indigenous communities in Mexico’s Campeche and Yucatán regions of their right to participate in the process, known as consultation, for granting Monsanto permits to grow GMO soy crops.

During the press conference, the Civil Observation Mission, a project formed last year to help document specific violations of the consultation process, presented a report detailing the violations of the right to free, prior and informed consultation in two of the municipalities selected, Holpechén and Tenabo. 

At stake in this fight is the livelihood, the health, the legacy and the dignity of these Maya communities and their biodiversity. OCA Mexico, through our participation in the Civil Observation Mission, is working with these communities to create avenues where they can voice their concerns, express their decisions, and expose the damage that is being done to their local environments, their health and their livelihoods. communities. What is at stake, ultimately, is our dignity as human beings, and the imperative of ensuring that human rights prevail over corporate rights.


As we reported last April, over the past decade, the Mexican government has granted Monsanto permits to develop over 253,000 hectares for the experimental planting of GM soy in nearly seven states. The government did this without formally consulting the surrounding indigenous communities, whose livelihoods depend on a rich tradition of organic honey production. 

When Maya authorities and beekeepers from Campeche and the Yucatán saw the impact soy was having on their highly prized organic honey production, they joined scientists and activists in a lawsuit against Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) and Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA), the government agencies responsible for granting the GM soy permits. The lawsuit accused the government of failing to follow the proper process for permitting, for destroying the livelihoods of Maya beekeepers and for violating the rights of indigenous communities through the excessive use of herbicides and related deforestation.

The courts ruled in favor of the Maya authorities in March 2014. The ruling was finalized in November 2015, when the federal government temporarily banned GM soy in Mexico and mandated that indigenous communities be consulted before any GMO soy permits could be granted. 

But Monsanto, which has a long history of violating Mexico’s laws, continues to flaunt the court ruling. And government officials have allowed it. This has resulted in the granting of permits to plant experimental GMO soy crops in Holpechén and Tenabo, despite the fact that the court-ordered rules for consulting with these communities were ignored. 

Shedding light on the violations

As noted above, during the July 13 press conference, the Civil Observation Mission presented a report detailing the violations of the right to free, prior and informed consultation in Holpechén and Tenabo. 

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 169, article 7(1):

The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development’. 

But in the case of this consultation in Mexico, this rule of law is not being followed. 

During the press conference, Valeria Enríquez, advocacy director for OCA Mexico, highlighted the “importance of raising awareness about the irregularities in the consultation process and the importance of identifying and making public those failures.”

María Colin, legal analyst at Greenpeace Mexico said that the planting of GM soy “violates the right to work and the right to a healthy environment of the Maya communities.”

The Civil Observation Mission used the press conference to publicize the following flaws in the current consultation process:

• When representatives of the National Commission for the Development of the Indigenous People (CDI), the Intersecretariat Commission on Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM) and the National Service of Health Innocuity and Agro-alimentary Quality (SENASICA) first presented the consultation process to the participating communities, they spent more time providing information about the characteristics of GM soy rather than explaining the consultation process. 

• There was a notable lack of community representatives during the meetings. Community members informed the Civil Observation Mission that they had been invited to attend the meeting the night before it took place. 

• Even with the presence of translators and interpreters, the materials provided at the meetings failed to ensure that the communities fully comprehended the purpose, scope and rules of the consultation process. A significant portion of the communities’ populations cannot read in Spanish or in Mayan. Ignoring this fact, the materials provided by the authorities were not designed to be didactic and to facilitate comprehension by the affected communities, thus reinforcing decades of stigmatization of Maya communities.

•One of the crucial violations highlighted during the conference and one of the key issues to observe in the following meetings is that members of non-participating communities infiltrated the meeting in order to persuade the Holpechén and Tenabo communities about the benefits of GM soy.

Fighting back

Beekeeping in Maya communities is an activity that has been passed on through generations and can be traced back centuries. But beekeepers are now being threatened by the environmental damage caused by GM crops in their communities, damage that includes deforestation, use of herbicides, contamination of their honey, death of pollinators, and the impact on human health.
To draw more international attention to this very important case, representatives of the Maya beekeeping communities affected by the Monsanto planting of GM soy and corn will present their testimonies during the Monsanto Tribunal in October in The Hague.

In the meantime, these communities will not remain silent about the potential threat posed by Monsanto’s GMO soy crops, or the failure of Monsanto and government officials to follow the legal process for granting permits for these crops.

Learn more: (in Spanish) (in Spanish) (in Spanish)

Ercilia Sahores is Latin American political director for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association