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Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula to Preserve World Heritage

September 9, 2009

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Meet Lizbeth Pool Uc, co-founder of Flor de Tajonal, a women’s cooperative in the small town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico that makes and sells honey and honey products. For generations, Lizbeth’s family has been keeping bees, one of the oldest economic activities of the Yucatan’s Mayan people and an important part of their ceremonial life. 

While the honey derived from the region’s native Melipona bees has nutritional and medicinal benefits, bees are also environmentally significant because they help preserve the vegetative cover of forests and jungle canyons in the area including in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a local World Heritage site. Unfortunately, there has been a drastic decline in beekeeping in recent years due to deforestation, hurricane damage, and a relative lack of financial incentive for Mayans to continue the tradition.

During the same time, the Yucatan has seen a massive increase in visitors. The increase in tourism has created an opportunity for the Mayan communities to share their culture and products with visitors – particularly around the region’s five World Heritage sites, places recognized for their “outstanding value to humanity.”

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With the support of the United Nations Foundation and our dedicated partners at every stage, members of the Mayan community like Lizbeth are reviving traditional activities such as beekeeping and creating sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their families.

Through ongoing training, the women of Flor de Tajonal have learned new techniques to certify their products as organic; created honey-based soaps, candies, and other cosmetic and medicinal products to maximize each hive’s productivity; and discovered innovative ways to make their products viable in the consumer market.

We also build connections for groups like Flor de Tajonal with travelers through travel industry members of the World Heritage Alliance for Sustainable Tourism. Thanks to the support of these members, Flor de Tajonal’s honey is now featured in spa treatments, sold in hotel gift shops, and available in restaurants across the Yucatan Peninsula.

Perhaps most importantly, the 14 Mayan women of Flor de Tajonal have discovered a greater sense of empowerment through self-employment.  In a society where men are the traditional breadwinners, these women are now able to provide for themselves and serve as role models for their children.

In Lizbeth’s own words, "As women of the village, our work gives us strength. It helps us economically, and is income for our homes. We now know the real value of being a beekeeper." Lizbeth’s teenage daughter also admires her mother’s work and hopes to follow in her footsteps as a business entrepreneur.

The Mayans are inextricably linked to the history and identity of World Heritage and are an invaluable resource for future generations seeking to learn about and experience treasured places like the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. We all need to work together to support people like Lizbeth. Learn more about how you can help preserve World Heritage and support local communities by visiting www.worldheritagealliance.org.

Editor's Note: Our Friends of World Heritage and World Heritage Alliance Initiatives culminated in 2010 after four years of successful collaborations.

 
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