The Mexican peninsula state of Yucatán is a natural wonderland, with vast landscapes of jungle, an extensive karst aquifer system, and enormous biodiversity. It is inhabited by many indigenous beekeepers and small farmers.
In the past fifteen years there has been rapid agricultural development on the peninsula which is detrimental to the magnificent natural world. Pig farming is huge here. Deforestation has claimed over 1/3 of the jungle already. Pork production increased by 36% on this peninsula between 2006-2018.
The area has become a nucleus of intensive pig farming in Mexico. In fact, it is now the epicenter for pork industry growth and there are plans to establish even more farms in the area. Local people are questioning the impact of this pig farming on the ecosystem.
These questions initiated official complaints by citizens partnering with multiple NGOs. The result was that four Yucatán pig farms were closed in May after inspections were carried out by Profepa, the environmental protection agency, due to environmental concerns.
Problems ranged from a lack of environmental impact assessment results to lack of reporting of hazardous waste and wastewater, and inadequate management. The closed pig farms were in Maxcanú, Kinchil, Opichén and Mérida. Profepa will address environmental concerns before issuing authorizations.
Here we share a 4:43-minute video by ISHRGlobal, featuring Leydy Pech, the indigenous leader and beekeeper who led her people to successfully stop Monsanto from growing GMO-soybeans in 7 Mexican states:
Pig farming is big business for Mexico. It accounted for 76 billion pesos in 2020, and production is rising. The Yucatán Peninsula is home to 14% of all Mexican pig farms, and they are authorized to export pork to China, Japan, Korea, and the USA. The region is considered “advantageous” for pig farming due to its water resources, vast territory, and its access to the USA and Asia through the port of Progreso.
Greenpeace México reported there are 257 pork farms in the country. Nearly half (47%) or 122 farms are in regions considered a priority for biodiversity conservation. Some farms in the western Yucatán are near the Ria Celestún Biosphere Reserve, a protected area that is part of a large wetland corridor.
A biologist and member of the beekeeping collective Maya Alliance for the Bees spoke with Mexico News Daily, along with other indigenous beekeepers, on condition of anonymity. He says millions of liters of water are used to carry out intensive pig farming, and the wastewater is later deposited into the forest, polluting many hectares of land.
A Maya beekeeper from the town of Kinchil said pools of wastewater from pig farms were discovered in the nearby jungle. The farm treatment plant does not work, so water flows into the forest. Where they saw the water, there were dead trees.
Water pollution is affecting the bee population that the local indigenous community relies upon for their traditional livelihood. Most residents in the western part of the state, where this intensive pig farming occurs, are indigenous Maya beekeepers and small cattle farmers that live in harmony with the land.
Another member of the Maya Alliance for the Bees said traditional beekeeping requires pure water and an intact ecosystem so the bees can collect pollen across their foraging area. Beekeepers report a decrease in their harvest. The harvest was always good, and these problems did not exist. Now they see dead bees, but do not know why. Laboratory tests would be needed.
The Kinchil beekeeper said local producers can no longer label their honey as organic because the bees are exposed to chemicals in the pig farm wastewater. They cannot get organic certification because they are nearly within two kilometers of the farm. Some beehives are even closer. Two years ago, they were approached by an organic honey company, but they could not get certified.
Locals worry about their bees and also that their own drinking water may be contaminated. Indigenous farmers drink water from shallow traditional Maya wells that usually measure less than six meters (18 ft) deep. The region’s water table is high in some areas, so the likelihood that contaminated water can reach the shallow wells is high. There is even concern that wastewater from the farms could reach a large reservoir that supplies water to the city of Celestún.
Greenpeace took well water samples in the area in 2020 and coliform bacteria was present in the water. They concluded that the National Water Commission should monitor the water quality frequently, and local communities should be given access to the information.
The anonymous Kinchil beekeeper hopes that the local indigenous community will be included in pig farm monitoring and decision-making in future. They wish to be part of a team of local regional caretakers and to participate in water sampling. They are not against the company, but they are against what will happen if people get sick and native species are damaged. They would not stop the company if it does things correctly.
To see photos and read the full article about this, visit Mexico News Daily here.
This series of events has a similarity to the story we covered recently where Maya indigenous elders, beekeepers and small farmers took on their government and a private corporation producing vast GMO-soy crops that were destroying their environment and endangering their health. The story of this fight can be seen in the video above, or you can read our blog post here.