Three hundred kilometers from Mexico City, the Sierra Norte mountain range winds through the northeast of Puebla state. It is here, in the shadow of these peaks, that the Náhuat and Totonacos indigenous peoples live, closely connected to the nature and environment surrounding them.
Intercropping the wild vegetation of the local forests, the communities cultivate coffee, pepper, vanilla and cinnamon. They also collect honey from the mountains. The fermented honey with a spiced flavor is produced by the tiny, docile native bee Scaptotrigona mexicana, raised inside traditional mancuernas. These unusual hives are made by sealing together two terracotta pots with an ash-based paste, which the indigenous beekeepers then separate using a machete to harvest the honey. The Puebla Sierra Norte Native Bees Honey has been a Slow Food Presidium since 2012.
However, with land grabbing on the rise, this unspoiled environment is coming under threat. In recent years, several damaging concessions have been granted to national and international groups interested in exploiting the region’s natural resources, with projects including hydroelectric power stations and open-pit mines. One of these projects is directly affecting the production area of the Presidium honey.
As Leonardo Durán Olguín, the local Presidium coordinator explains, “Since 2007, around 120,000 hectares of land have been granted to both Mexican and foreign companies, including from China and Canada…Surveys are also underway to build a dozen power stations, which will provide electricity to gold and silver mines.”
Land grabbing for natural resources is a widespread and disturbing phenomenon in Mexico. According to a recent study published by the FAO*, the country is one of the most “generous” in terms of granting mining concessions. The government protects investors through deeply unbalanced agreements; with low purchasing prices (especially when compared to potential profits), vague promises of assistance for local people (which are often ignored), and no compensation offered for the damage done to the environment.
“Threats are the order of the day,” says Leonardo. “The authorities are involved in attempts to force the indigenous peoples to silently abandon the land in which their ancestral culture is rooted, relocating them to crowded and anonymous ciudades rurales. Without their land, farmers become no more than underpaid laborers, with the traditional mechanisms for community management of the land destroyed from one day to the next.”
As explained in a report published by the Gaia Foundation in 2012, the mining industry is having a devastating effect on ecosystems all over the world. Rapid deforestation is accompanied by the poisoning of water, air and soil: The greed of investors sweeps away local communities, often with devastating social consequences.
The local community has now started to fight back; a challenging task in the face of powerful companies. Leonardo is also one of the organizers of the Tosepan Titataniske cooperative. “The Tosepan Titataniske cooperative belongs to the Consejo Tiyattlali, an alliance of organizations that are working to protect the whole Sierra Norte de Puebla area,” he explains. “For example, a hydroelectric plant was supposed to be built in Olintla, but the local community protested fiercely and the project was blocked. In our experience, the population’s capacity for collective expression is the only resource able to halt the greed of investors. Mobilization is the only effective tool for preventing this destruction of ecosystems and communities.”
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* Héctor Manuel Robles Berlanga, “El caso de México” in Dinamica del mercado de la tierra en America Latina y el Caribe, 2011