Battle Over Water, Waste Management Rages in YucatanBy Pedro Alcalá | Wed, 04/28/2021 - 18:16
Indigenous communities in Yucatan have successfully halted the operation of a large industrial pig farm in the Mayan jungle, arguing that the farm’s water use and waste disposal infrastructure would inflict irreparable ecological damage on the region’s environmental resources, reports El País.
This ongoing conflict began in October 2016, when the Municipal President of the Homun township Enrique Echeverría Chan awarded a concession to Producción Alimentaria Porcícola (PAPO) for the construction of an industrial farm that could house and process up to 49,000 pigs in a protected ecological reserve. The farm would end up occupying 113 hectares of jungle property that was declared a protected reserve back in 2013 after a ring of almost 1,200 underground freshwater basins or cenotes were mapped in the area. Indigenous communities who resided in this area identified these basins as their collective property and the source of most of the water they use on a daily basis. Their ownership was legally recognized not only by state and federal authorities, but also by Mexico's international obligations to Convention 169 of the UN’s International Labor Organization, which granted sovereignty rights to indigenous people over all resources in their collective property and dictated that any enterprise that could affect those resources needed the collective approval of the community in question.
Despite this legal requirement, indigenous communities were not informed of PAPO’s industrial farm project and only discovered its construction in 2017. This immediately sparked social tensions, with some members of the community directly threatening Echeverría Chan. The community rejected the project given research proving the overwhelming negative impact on water resources that industrial pig farms generate due to poor waste management practices. For example, this New York Times report from a few weeks ago highlights the negative infrastructural, environmental and social effects of so-called “toxic ponds” that are created when industrial pig farms create artificial reservoirs that are later filled with a mix of their facilities’ waste, along with regionally available groundwater and several chemical solvents to dilute it. The communities unanimously voted to strip the permits issued to PAPO of all legal validity. However, a judge’s order was needed to fulfill this objective. Even though both PROFEPA and SEMARNAT got involved in the case, the farm began operations in 2018.
It was not until later in that year that a judge’s order was finally obtained by the indigenous communities in question to shut down the farm after a complaint was filed by a group of the communities’ youngest members. The plant remains closed to this day, when the case was unearthed by the international press. Representatives from all the companies involved have declined to issue any comment in response to the story. The only one who responded to this request was Eduardo Batllori, Yucatan’s Environmental Minister from 2007 to 2019. He claims that PAPO’s project was legal given the fact that the farm had installed an adequately sophisticated water and waste treatment facility adjacent to its property, but El Pais’ report contradicts this by detailing the fact that this infrastructure was never finished or properly activated. The now-public case illustrates the increasing relevance of ESG observance by infrastructure developers.