Mayan Interspecies Alliances Facing Agribiotechnology in Yucatan

  • Sainath Suryanarayanan Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Katarzyna Beilin Department of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Keywords: bees, biotechnology, Yucatan, multispecies, Mayan


This paper examines an environmental conflict between Mayan communities and governmental authorities in Mexico’s Yucatan region. Mayan beekeepers attributed severe economic losses in honey production to the expansion of genetically engineered (GE) soy plantations. Beekeeping of Apis mellifera or “European” honey bees for the purposes of honey export is a key source of livelihood for Mayan communities. Mayan beekeepers mobilized to bring about a moratorium on GE-soy planting, but GE-seed corporations and farmers persuaded the government to lift the moratorium. We show that there is much more to the Mayan beekeepers’ resistance than their livelihood stakes in “European” bees. Focusing on historically shaped relationships between Mayan communities, milpa crops and indigenous Melipona bees, we develop the idea of interspecies alliance to explain the resistance of Mayan communities to the spread of GE-soy. Through ethnographically oriented fieldwork and archival research, our study sheds light on conjoined milpa-Melipona-Maya worlds struggling together to resist and survive in the face of interpenetrating climates of globalized capital and localized socio-ecological degradation. We also examine how the interspecies assemblage of milpa-Melipona-Maya has been transformed in the process through alliances with international foundations, religious groups, scientists, activists and alternative technologies.


Adams, Richard E.W. 1977/2005. Prehistoric Mesoamerica (3rd ed.). Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press.

Ares-López, Daniel. 2017. Cultures of nature in mid-twentieth-century Galicia. In, J.A. Losada and B. Sampedro (eds.), Rerouting Galician Studies. Multidisciplinary Interventions. New York: Routledge, pp. 57-71.

Beilin, Katarzyna O. 2004. Conversaciones literarias con novelistas contemporáneos. (Literary Conversations with the Contemporary Novelists). Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Tamesis.

-- . 2015. In Search of Alternative Biopolitics in Contemporary Spain; Anti-Bullfighting, Animality and the Environment. The Ohio State University Press.

-- . 2016. Ecology of a change: alternative economies for anthropocene in the multispecies context. Ecozon@ 7 (2), 149-64.

Beilin, Katarzyna O. and S. Suryanarayanan. 2016. Step out to shadowtime, hurry like a plant: corporal time and corporate time for the anthropocene generation. Transmodernity: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production in the Luso-Hispanic World. 2 (6), 21- 42.

-- . 2017. The war between amaranth and soy: Interspecies resistance to transgenic soy agriculture in Argentina. Environmental Humanities 9 (2): 204-229.

Barad, Karen. 2007. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke University Press.

Barnes, Grenville. 2009. The evolution and resilience of community-based land tenure in rural Mexico. Land Use Policy 26 (2), 393–400.

Bennett, Jane. 2011. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Durham: Duke University Press.

Bernet, David and B. Borgfeld. 2011. Rising Resistance. Germany/Switzerland. Film.

Berge, Johan. 2019. Interview. Salamanca, August 1.

Blanton, Richard E. et al. 1993. Ancient Mesoamerica: A Comparison of Change in Three Regions. 2nd ed., Cambridge.

Bryant, Levi R. 2011. The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Open Humanities Press.

Calkins, Charles F. 1974. Beekeeping in Yucatan: Historical-Cultural Zoogeography. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Caamal, Bernardo. 2018. Interview. Mérida, July 26.

Carrillo, Luis Arturo. 2017. Interview. Mérida, 21-24 July.

Castree, Noel. Marxism, Capitalism and production of nature. In Social Nature: Theory, Practice and Politics. Ed Noel Castree and Burce Braun. Blackwell, 2001.

Chim, Lorenzo. 2017. Interview. Tulúm, 29 July.

Chim Bacab, P.P. 2014. Lool k’ajlay/Flor de la memoria. Secretaría de Cultura del Gobierno del estado. Campeche.
--- . 2018. Interview. Mérida, July 23.

Collard, Rosemary-Claire., J. Dempsey, and J. Sundberg. 2015. A manifesto for abundant futures. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 105(2), 322-330.

Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. 2015. Los derechos humanos de los pueblos indígenas en México. CNDH, Mexico.

Cortés, Fabiola. 2018. Con la Fundación Melipona Maya un extranjero se apodera de un recurso ancestral. Pedro Canché Noticias 4 May.

Daltabuit Godás, Magalí and C.A. Meade. 2012. El movimiento ambientalista de Quintana Roo. Cuernavaca: Centro regional de investigaciones multidisciplinarias.

De la Cadena, Marisol. 2010. Indigenous cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual reflections beyond ‘politics’. Cultural Anthropology 25 (2), 334-370.

Diemont, Stewart A.W., J.L. Bohn, D.D. Rayome, S.J. Kelsen, K. Cheng. 2011. Comparisons of Mayan forest management, restoration, and conservation. Forest Ecology and Management 261, 1696-1705.

Dzib Canul, Egilio. 2017. Interview. Tzakamulkay, August,15.

Ellis, Edward A., J.A. Romero Montero, I.U. Hernández Gómez, L. Porter-Bolland and P.W Ellis. 2017. Private property and Mennonites are major drivers of forest cover loss in central Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Land Use Policy 69, 474-484.

Ens, Helen. 1987. Campeche colonies (Campeche, Mexico). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 10 January,,_Mexico)

Ewell, Peter T. and D. Merrill-Sands. 1987. Milpa in Yucatan: A long-fallow maize system and its alternatives in the Maya peasant economy. In, B. Turner II and S. B. Brush (eds.), Comparative Farming Systems. New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 95-129.

Fitting, Elizabeth. 2011. The Struggle for Maize: Campesinos, Workers and Transgenic Corn in Mexican Countryside. Duke University Press.

Fretz, J. Winfield. 1945. Mennonite colonization in Mexico: An Introduction. Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, Pennsylvania.

Gómez González, Aldo. 2008. Maiz, contaminación transgénica y los pueblos indígenas en México. México, D.F.: Congreso de Diputados.

Gómez González, Irma. 2016. A honey-sealed alliance: mayan beekeepers in the Yucatan peninsula versus transgenic soybeans in Mexico’s last tropical forest. Journal of Agrarian Change 16(4), 728-736.

Güemes-Ricalde, F.J., R. Villanueva-Gutiérrez and K.D. Eaton. 2015. Honey production by the Mayans in the Yucatan Peninsula. Bee World 84 (4), 144-154.

Haraway, Donna. 2008. When Species Meet. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota Press.

-- . 2015. Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making kin. Environmental Humanities 6, 159-165.

Hetherington, Kregg. 2013. Beans before the law: knowledge practices, responsibility, and the Paraguayan soy boom. Cultural Anthropology 28 (1), 65-85.

Hinojosa, Felipe. 2014. Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kinchy, Abby. 2012. Seeds, Science and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops. MIT Press.

Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Towards the Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

--. 2004. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy. Harvard UP.

Le Heron, Richard, H. Campbell, N. Lewis, and M. Carolan (eds). 2016. Biological economies: Experimentation and the politics of agri-food frontiers. Routledge.

Livingston, Julie and J.K. Puar. 2011. Interspecies. Social Text 106 (29), 3-14.

Lopez-Maldonado, Julio E. 2005. Ethnohistory of the stingless bees Melipona beecheii (Hymenoptera: Meliponinae) in the Mayan civilization, decipherment of the beekeeping almanacs part I in the Madrid codex and the study of their behavioral traits and division of labor. University of California-Davis. UMI Dissertation Publishing.

Marder, Michael. 2013. Plant-thinking: A philosophy of vegetal life. Columbia University Press.

Martins, Franz. 2017. Interview. Santa Elena, July 23.

--- . 2018. Interview. Santa Elena, July 28.

Mignolo, Walter. 2016. El pensamiento des-colonial, desprendimiento y apertura: un manifiesto. Revista Telar 6, 7-38.

Miranda, Fanny. CONACYT propone estrategia nacional para proteger apicultura en Yucatán. Millenio Nov, 7, 2019.

Moore, Jason (ed). 2015. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism. PM Press/Kairos.

Múuch’Xíinbal. 2018. Denuncian a Fundación Melipona Maya de “saquear” el pueblo Maya de su Xunáan Kaab. MayaPolitikon. 1 May,

Müller, Birgit. 2014. Seeds grown, governed and contested or the ontic in political anthropology. In: Birgit Müller (ed.) Seeds and the ontic in political anthropology. Thematic issue of Focaal. Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 69, 1-33.

--. 2015. Fools gold on the prairies. Ontologies, farmers and their seeds. Tsantsa 20, 61-73.

Muñoz, Eduardo Negrín. 2016. Mujeres mayas, abejas mayas. GeoGraphos 7 (87).

Myers, J.P. et al. 2016. Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement. Environmental Health 15, 19.

Myers, Natasha. 2015. Conversations on plant sensing. Nature Culture 3: 35-66.

Otero, Gerardo. 2008. Food for the few: Neoliberal globalism and agricultural biotechnology in Latin America. University of Texas Press.

Palmieri, Stephane. 2017. Interview. Tulúm, August 2-4.

--- . 2018. Interview. Tulúm, August 5.

Pavone, Vincenzo. 2012. Ciencia, neoliberalismo y bioeconomía. Revista Iberoamericana de Ciencia, Tecnologìa y Sociedad 7, 145–161.

Pech, Leydi. 2017. Interview. Itchek, 23-24 July.

Pech, Jorge. 2017. Interview. Hopelchén, July 23.

Polanco, Rodríguez, A. et al. 2014. Contamination by organochlorine pesticides in the aquifer of the ring of cenotes in Yucatan, Mexico. Water and Environment Journal

Polanco, Rodríguez, A. and K. O. Beilin, 2019a. Toxic bodies: Water and women in Yucatan. Environmental Cultural Studies Through Time. Ed. Katarzyna Beilin, Kathleen Connolly and Micah McKay. Hispanic Issues on Line.

Polanco, Rodríguez, A. and K. O. Beilin, 2019b. Water toxicity and activism in Yucatan, Mexico. Nelson Issues Briefs. May, 1 (1), 4.

Quezada-Euán, José J.G., et al. 1996. The distribution and range expansion of Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera) in the state of Yucatan, Mexico. Journal of Apicultural Research 35(3/4), 85-95.

Quezada-Euán, José J.G., et al. 2001. Meliponiculture in Mexico: problems and perspective for development. Bee World 82 (4), 160-167.

Rodríguez Canto, A. et al. 2016. Milpas de las comunidades mayas y dinámica de uso del suelo en la Península de Yucatán. Centro Regional Universitario Península de Yucatan de la Universidad Autónoma Chapingo. Mérida Yucatan.

Starobin, Shana M. 2018. Beekeepers versus biotech: commodity characteristics and regulatory interdependence in the global environmental politics of food. Global Environmental Politics 18 (2), 114-133.

Suryanarayanan, Sainath and D.L. Kleinman. 2017. Vanishing Bees: Science, Politics and Honeybee Health. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press.

-- . 2013. B(e)ecoming Experts: The controversy over insecticides in the honey bee Colony Collapse Disorder. Social Studies of Science 43 (2), 215-240.

Toledo, Victor M. and B-B. Narciso. 2008. La memoria biocultural: La importancia ecológica de las sabidurías tradicionales. Barcelona: Icaria.

Toledo, Victor M., B-B. Narciso, et al. 2011. Multiple use and biodiversity within the Mayan communities of Yucatan, Mexico. Interciencia 33(5), 345-352.

Tsing, Anna. 2012. Unruly edges: Mushrooms as companion species. Environmental Humanities. 1, 141-154.
Ucál, Feliciano. 2018. Interview. Hopelchén. July 27.

Vides, Eric and R. Vandame. 2012. Pecoreo de abejas Apis mellifera en flores de soya Glycine max. Reporte Técnico. El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, Departamento de Agricultura, Sociedad y Ambiente.

Villanueva-Gutiérrez, Rogel, D.W. Roubik, et al. 2005. Extinction of Melipona beecheii and traditional beekeeping in the Yucatan peninsula. Bee World 86(2), 35-41.

Villanueva-Gutiérrez, Rogel, D.W. Roubik, et al. 2013. A critical view of colony losses in managed Mayan honey-making bees (Apidae: Meliponini) in the heart of zona Maya. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 86(4), 352-362.

Villanueva-Gutiérrez, Rogel, C. Echazarreta-González, et al. 2014. Transgenic soybean pollen (Glycine max L.) in honey from the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. Scientific Reports 4, 4022.

Weaver, N. and E. Weaver. 1981. Beekeeping with the stingless bee Melipona beecheii, by the Yucatecan Maya. Bee World 62(1), 7-19.

Weis, Tony. 2010. The accelerating biophysical contradictions of industrial capitalist agriculture. Journal of Agrarian Change. 10(3), 315–341.

--- . 2013. The meat of the global food crisis. The Journal of Peasant Studies 40.1: 65-85.

Whatmore, Sarah. 2002. Hybrid geographies: Natures cultures spaces. Sage.
How to Cite
Suryanarayanan, S., & Beilin, K. (2020). Milpa-Melipona-Maya. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 19(2), 469-500. Retrieved from