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Mexican delegation seeks supporters in Germany – visit to Naturland

Naturland unterstützt Maja-Imkerinnen im Kampf gegen GentechnikGräfelfing – The illegal cultivation of GM soya beans in Mexico poses a threat to the livelihood of the indigenous Mayan beekeepers on the Yucatan peninsula. One of the risks created by the increasing expansion of soya bean fields is to the honey production of the Mayans. Almost half of the Mexican honey produced for export is destined for Germany where per capita consumption of honey is the highest in the world.

Leydy Aracely Pech Martin, a farmer and representative of Muuch Kambal (“Learning together”), an indigenous women’s organisation, and Irma Gómez Gonzàlez, an agricultural engineer and apiculture consultant, had come from Geneva where they had intended to present their complaints on the subjects of human rights and genetic engineering to the UN committee responsible for economic, social and cultural human rights on 25th September. Shortly before the hearing, however, the proceedings were postponed to next year because the Mexican government had cancelled its attendance in view of the consequences of the earthquake there.

Judicial order to cease cultivation of GM soya beans is being undermined

The reason they wanted to submit a complaint to the UN was that GM soya beans continue to be cultivated on the Yucatan peninsula, despite the Supreme Court of Mexico actually withdrawing its approval in a ruling dating back to 2015. At that time Naturland had joined beekeepers’ associations, environmental and human rights organisations from all over the world to support them in their judicial fight against GM soya.

However the victory which the Mayan communities gained before the Supreme Court in 2015 is now evidently being systematically undermined. “In 2016, in the course of a monitoring project, the Mexican government itself determined that GM soya was still being cultivated. “But since then nothing has happened”, complains Irma Gómez Gonzàlez. From what she can tell, the authorities are not taking any effective steps to prevent this. “This is why we think that the extent of illegal cultivation is much greater than known officially.”

Bee mortality and groundwater pollution are the consequences

The contamination of the groundwater with pesticides and extensive illegal forest clearing are part and parcel of the immediate concomitants of the continual expansion of soya bean cultivation, with catastrophic consequences for local populations. The bees are dying as a result of the use of pesticides, or are literally starving. This means that honey production, a major source of income for Mayan families besides farming, is declining.

“Beekeeping is part of our culture. Any one family normally has between 30 and 40 hives,” says Leydy Aracely Pech Martin, who farms roughly two hectares of land with her family. “Many families have now lost half of their bees, and some have even lost all of them,” she says. This is a disaster, because these families used to survive on the income from the sale of honey during the non-productive farming season.

Export of honey threatened by genetic engineering

And it is precisely the sale of honey which is facing an additional threat from the illegal cultivation of the soya bean. “Almost half of Mexican honey exports are destined for Germany. If this honey is contaminated by GMOs, it can no longer be sold in Germany as organic honey. And even as conventional honey it would be extremely difficult to sell it here“, says Manfred Fürst, head of the International Department at Naturland.

„We must not desert the Mayans now“, says Fürst, and promised Naturland’s Mexican guests the association’s continued support. “It should be remembered that there are also several Naturland beekeepers on the Yucatan peninsula,” says Fürst, who is also co-ordinator of the IFOAM Apiculture Forum, the international association of organic beekeepers. In this capacity he invited the two Mexicans to the next World Conference on Organic Beekeeping to be held in early 2019 at the German university of Hohenheim.


The Mayan countryside on the Yucatan peninsula is thinly populated and rich in forests, the indigenous bees’ natural source of forage. According to the report produced by the Mayan representatives for the UN, the deforestation rate there is now the fastest in all Mexico because of the cultivation of the soya bean. The inevitable consequence of this cultivation is the extreme use of pesticides. The pesticides weaken the bees and have already been the cause of death of thousands of bee colonies.

The pesticides are sprayed by big tractors or from the air, with no regard for protective measures for the local population. Via what are known as discharge wells the pesticides flow directly into the groundwater. Hundreds of these wells have been built illegally to drain the natural lagoons and thus obtain new areas for cultivation. Already glyphosate readings in drinking water have been taken which in some cases produce figures that are multiples of the maximum tolerance levels in the European Union.

Beekeeping is not only of economic significance but is also an important part of the Mayan cultural identity. The Mayans rely for their livelihood mainly on beekeeping and on their small “milpas”, sophisticated mixed farming systems growing maize and beans.