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Mayan beekeepers against Monsanto transgenic soya, Campeche, Mexico


Monsanto Co. genetically modified soybean commercial plantations are grown in 9 Mexican federal states mainly for the production of human-edible oil and animal food for national market. From 2000-2009, production of Monsanto Co. soybean took place under the status of ‘experimental’ stage- allowing for planting of a GMOs for experimental purposes including use of containment measures to restrict its contact with the population and the environment (Mexican federal Biosafety Law, 2005). In 2010 and 2011, the experimental plantations became a ‘pilot program’ that allows production of GMOs with or without containment measures (GMO Biosafety Law, 2005). In June 2012, The Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Stockbreeding, Rural Development, Fishery and Food (SAGARPA) issued a permit to Monsanto Co. for upgrading of the soybean project on around 250,000 ha, from ‘pilot‘ to ‘commercial, allowing production of GMOs without any containing measure. The Mexican Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) supported this decision.

Some 60,000 ha are located in the Yucatan Peninsula, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and the second biggest tropical forest on the American continent after the Amazon (Tamariz, 2013). Bees are the most important pollinators at the Yucatan Peninsula, which gives apiculture outstanding socioecological relevance. From pre-colonial times, apiculture has developed along with a variety of native and endemic bee species, comprised under the denomination of Mayan bee. Since the mid twentieth century, apiculture in Mexico has become an industry beyond traditional usages. Currently, the honey production of the Mayan area in the Yucatan Peninsula accounts for 45% of the nation’s honey, 90% of which is exported to the European Union. Most producers employ the European bee and produce organic honey (Tamariz, 2013).

The strong herbicide glyphosate used in production of soybean and pollen of transgenic species have a considerable negative effect on the organic production of honey, and therefore on socioeconomic condition of local producers. Previously in 2011, a load of 150 tonnes of honey was already rejected by the clients from Germany for containing pollen of transgenic species. The contaminaton of honey was confirmed in El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) study. Moreover, production of soybean include deforestation of natural vegetation to give way to monoculture plantation causing biodiversity loss and decrease in quantity of nectar used by bees to produce honey.

In order to ban transgenic soybean cultivation in Mexico, Mayan beekeepers, honey gatherers and exporters from the Yucatan Peninsula have created a political network together with environmental and human-rights organizations, scientific and governmental institutions from different parts of the country. The network has organized meetings and workshops, exchanged information, experiences and research findings, and shared a common political strategy. Furthermore, some of the beekeepers, civil organizations and companies against the plantations formed an activist organization called Sin Transgénicos and have organized a protest “Ma OGM” (NO-GMO in Maya) attended by 2000 people in seven Mayan ceremonial centres and one plantation in the Yucatan Peninsula. The UCCS- Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad supported the cause by sending a petition again the project signed by 660 scientist to SAGAPRA (even before the approval of Monsanto´s project for commercial plantations) and publishing news and opinion-articles on the issue in local and national newspapers (Tamariz, 2013).

In June 2012, the members of the network applied for an appeal to ban transgenic soy cultivation in the federal states involved in the Monsanto project Campeche, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Chiapas, and demanded that these states be decreed as a Transgenic free Zone. The appeal considers the Constitution of Mexico and of several national and international laws and treaties regarding labour rights, indigenous rights and participation in decision-making such as Convention 169 of the ILO and the Mexican federal GMO Biosafety Law. It denounces SEMARNAT for evading its responsibility to protect the environment and for making the decision without taking into account the opinions of the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the National Institute of Ecology (INE) (Tamariz, 2013).

On April 9th 2014, the Second District Court decisions upheld the representative of beekeepers organisation form municipality of Hopelhchen, Productores Unidos Lol K´ax, Productos de Miel Real el Panal de Suc-Tuc, Miel y Cera de Campeche, Koloolel Kab and Unión de Apícolas Indígenas Cheneros that filed a writ of amparo to stop the authorization by SAGARPA. In its decision the judge have applied protection standards on the rights of indigenous peoples taking into account the essential function that beekeeping has to the culture, environment, economy and society of the local communities in the region. Previously on March 6th 2014, the Second District Court upheld a separate appeal against Monsanto by two Mayan communities from Municipality Hopelchen Pac-chén and Cancabchén.

The representative of beekeepers organisations from Hopelchen,consider the sentence brought by the Second District Court as an important precedents that establishes fundamental criteria to be followed by federal judges in rest of the state where the appeal is on-going. They added that if necessary they will bring this case to the Supreme Court of Justice in order to reach the final step in reaching environmental justice- decreeing the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas as Transgenic free Zones.

UPDATE. Years later the conflicts became well knows because of a Goldman Prize to Laydy Pech,  a 55 years old beekeeper and part of a collective of Mayan women who are dedicated to care and preservation of the beecheii melipona bee, a wild species from the Yucatan Peninsula that has no sting and is recognized for the healing benefits of its honey. This species has been cultivated by the Maya since pre-Hispanic times and is considered "sacred" by these peoples. In 2012, the Mexican government gave permits to Monstanto to experimentally grow GM soy in 7 Mexican states, including the Mayan territory of Campeche. The inhabitants of Hopelchén noticed that large extensions of land began to be deforested to settle the plantations and, subsequently, bees began to die as a result of the spraying of glyphosate and other agrochemicals. They also denounced the contamination of rivers and crops that put their livelihoods at risk. Leydy Pech then promoted the formation of a coalition known as “Sin Transgénicos” and spearheaded a legal action against the Mexican government to reverse the permits granted to Monsanto. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the government violated the constitutional rights of the Maya by not consulting the communities before authorizing the permits. "It was a victory for the Mayan people, but I also felt that the struggle is just beginning.". Thanks to this struggle, she was awarded the Goldman 2020 prize.. "It has not only been a struggle against Monsanto, but against the whole model of agro-industrial development that has been imposed in Mexico and that is harming us"... "We Mayans are alive, we Mayans are fighting and it is a struggle for life".

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Mayan beekeepers against Monsanto transgenic soya, Campeche, Mexico
State or province:Campeche
Location of conflict:Hopelchen
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Soybeans

Project Details and Actors

Project details

In 2011, the Mexican federal government reported 167,889 ha of soybean plantations (14,959 ha in the Yucatan Peninsula), which produced 141,143 tonnes (25,786 tonnes in the Yucatan Peninsula)

Currently there are 1.9 million beehives in Mexico, cared for by 42 thousand beekeepers. They produce an annual average of 56,000 tonnes of honey, with an estimated value of 150 million USD.

"The state of Campeche in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula features an ancient mixture of forests, beekeeping, local agriculture, and deep-seated Mayan culture. Mexico is the world’s sixth largest producer of honey, and 40% of the nation’s honey production originates from the Yucatán Peninsula. In Campeche, 25,000 families—especially within indigenous Mayan communities—depend on honey production for their livelihoods. Beekeeping is also integral to Mayan culture and a key factor in the protection of Campeche’s forests. Recently, with the rise of industrial agriculture, the state lost nearly 94,000 acres of forest—the highest rate of deforestation in Mexico." (Goldman Prize, 2020, Laydy Pech).

Project area:60,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:25,000 families
Start of the conflict:2012
Company names or state enterprises:Monsanto Corporation (Monsanto Co) from United States of America - Investments in transgenic soybean plantations
Relevant government actors:The Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Stockbreeding, Rural Development, Fishery and Food (SAGARPA); The Mexican Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT); TheNational Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO); The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP); The National Institute of Ecology (INE); State governments of the Yucatan Peninsula: Campeche, Quintana Roo and Yucatan.
International and Finance InstitutionsUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP) from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Productores Unidos Lol K´ax; Productos de Miel Real el Panal de Suc-Tuc; Miel y Cera de Campeche; Koloolel Kab; Unión de Apícolas Indígenas Cheneros; Colectivo Apícola de los Chenes; Colectivo MA OGM; Indignación A.C.; Educe S.C. de R. L.; Unión de Científicos Comprometidos con la Sociedad (UCCS); Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (CEMDA); Grupo de Estudios Ambientales, Semillas de vida; Greenpeace; El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR).

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Genetic contamination, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Potential: Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsContamination with glyphosate- the herbicide used for GM soybeans
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Other Health impactsAccording to research done in Argentina, glyphosate has caused miscarriage, hypothyroidism, diabetes, birth malformations, and cancer in human populations living close to the plantations.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Land dispossession


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:According the the decison of the Second District Court brought on the demand by Mayan beekepers and supporters, SAGARPA has an obligation to ensure that no GM soybean is planted in the state of Campeche. If SAGARPA plans to reactivate the permit, it will have to meet two prerequisites: a) consider a new opinion on environmental impacts of soybean plantations issued by CONABIO, CONANP and INE; b) respedt FPIC with Mayan communities in the region.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This court decision represents a victory to environmental justice in the state of Campeche, however there are similar ongoing court cases in state of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Chiapas. The final victory would be decreeing the Peninsula Yucatan and the state of Chiapas as GMO free area.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

The Mexican federal GMO Biosafety Law (Ley de Bioseguridad de Organismos Genéticamente Modificados, 2005)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Tamariz, Gabriel. 2013. Apiculture vs. Transgenic soy in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, EJOLT Factsheet No. 004, 5 p.

Soya transgénica amenaza a 20 mil familias mayas

Frena juez la siembra de soya transgénica en Campeche

Miel, oro amarillo

Taller sobre transgénicos y apicultura en la Península de Yucatán

Detectan polen de soya transgénica en mieles de la Península de Yucatán

Detectan polen de soya transgénica en mieles de la Península de Yucatán


Apicultores de Yucatán son afectados por cultivo de soya transgénica que contamina su miel

Otorgan Nuevo amparo contra el permiso de siembra de soya transgénica concedido a Monsanto

Campeche prohibe transgénicos de Monsanto por afectar la apicultura y a los mayas

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Mayan people say no to GE crops

Meta information

Contributor:Jovanka Spiric, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, vankajo(at) Aida Luz.
Last update13/07/2021
Conflict ID:1398



"Ma OGM" (NO-GMO in Maya)

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