Guatemala forms part of the center of origin of maize, and is home to a large amount of the staple crop’s genetic diversity. Smallholder farmers are the guardians of much of this diversity in the form of landraces, native maize varieties passed down through generations that are prized for their flavor and use in traditional dishes. These landraces are gaining interest in the culinary community, and many chefs are willing to pay more for traditional maize varieties. A recent study from scientists working with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) investigated whether facilitating the emergence of niche markets for local maize varieties in the western highlands of Guatemala could contribute to poverty reduction.
Posts Tagged ‘Genetic Diversity’
By Jennifer Johnson, Terry Molnar and Martha Willcox
In southern Mexico and Central America a fungal maize disease known as tar spot complex (TSC) is decimating yields, threatening local food security and livelihoods. In El Portillo, Chiapas, Mexico, local farmer Felix Corzo Jimenez surveys his maize field sadly… “It’s been a terrible year. We’ll be lucky if we harvest even 50 percent of our usual yields.” He fingers a dried up maize leaf covered in tiny black dots, and pulls the husk off of an ear to show the shriveled kernels, poorly filled-in. “Tar spot is ruining our crops.”
The CIMMYT maize germplasm bank is the lifeblood of many MAIZE activities, preserving the genetic diversity that is necessary to develop improved maize varieties farmers need to feed a growing population in a changing climate.
The bank contains over 28,000 unique collections of seed of maize and related species from 88 countries. These collections represent the genetic diversity of unique native varieties and wild relatives of maize and are held under long-term storage for the benefit of humanity in accordance with the 2007 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The collections are also studied and used as a source of diversity to breed for crucial traits such as heat and drought tolerance, resistance to crop diseases and pests, grain yield productivity and grain quality. Seed is freely shared on request to researchers, students, and academic and development institutions worldwide.
For Mexicans, the “children of corn,” maize is entwined in life, history and tradition. It is not just a crop; it is central to their identity.
Even today, despite political and economic policies that have led Mexico to import one-third of its maize, maize farming continues to be deeply woven into the traditions and culture of rural communities. Furthermore, maize production and pricing are important to both food security and political stability in Mexico.
One of humanity’s greatest agronomic achievements, maize is the most widely produced crop in the world. According to the head of CIMMYT’s maize germplasm bank, senior scientist Denise Costich, there is broad scientific consensus that maize originated in Mexico, which is home to a rich diversity of varieties that has evolved over thousands of years of domestication.