Leydy Pech is a 55-year-old Mayan beekeeper from the state of Campeche in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula who was honored this year with the Goldman Environmental Prize — known as the Green Nobel Prize — which is given to grassroots environmental activists. She was one of six recipients which included Nemonte Nenquimo, an Indigenous Waorani woman from the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador who was also named one of TIME magazine’s 100 influential people this year. Nenquimo spearheaded a campaign that resulted in a court ruling that protects 500,000 acres of the rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Similarly, Pech formed a coalition to protect her hometown from the dangers of genetically modified planting by a large corporation.
In 2012 the Mexican government granted agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto permission to plant genetically modified soybeans in seven Mexican states including Campeche. The government failed to consult with local and Indigenous communities and in response, Pech created a coalition made up of NGOs, beekeepers, and activists who filed a lawsuit against the Mexican government. After research the effects of the genetically modified plots they found glyphosate, used in the pesticide Roundup, in the water supply and urine of residents of her hometown of Hopelchén, EcoWatch reported.
“I cannot sit idly by when I know what is happening,” Leydy told AIDA, a regional organization of environmental legal experts in LATAM. “It has become my responsibility. Not doing anything would be like betraying my own identity.”
The Supreme Court of Mexico ruled unanimously that Indigenous communities must be consulted before the planting of GM soy in 2015 as a result of her efforts. Monsanto’s permits were canceled in Campeche and Yucatán states and later Mexico’s Food and Agricultural Service revokes Monsanto’s permits to grow genetically modified soy in seven states, according to EcoWatch.
Pech works with a rare, stingless, native bee species (melipona beecheii) that was domesticated and has been cultivated by the Mayans for centuries, according to AIDA. She manages the shop of Koolel-Kab (“women who work with bees”), an organization she founded with other women from Hopelchén in 1995, AIDA reported. She learned the trade of beekeeping from her grandfather and had to break barriers to establish herself as men are often beekeepers in that area. In Campeche, an estimated 25,000 mainly Indigenous families rely on the honey trade and Mexico is the sixth-largest producer of honey worldwide, according to EcoWatch.
“We live in a world where only men have been able to speak and make decisions,” Leydy told AIDA. “I’ve broken with that and they’ve questioned me.” She added, “They told us we wouldn’t achieve anything. But little by little we demonstrated our abilities. The men saw the results of our work and publically recognized that the organization is an example of struggle and success.”