Felix Corzo Jimenez , a farmer in Chiapas, Mexico, examines one of his maize plants infected with tar spot complex.
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.”
Scientists agree maize originated in Mexico thousands of years ago. CIMMYT/ Peter Lowe
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.
In over 125 agricultural communities in 26 countries, a field study of gender norms, agency and agricultural innovation, known as GENNOVATE, is now underway. MAIZE and WHEAT are funding over half of the studies. The huge evidence base generated will help spur the necessary transformation in how gender is included in agricultural research for development.
A team of researchers from CIMMYT carried out the first GENNOVATE fieldwork in Mexico in 2014, identifying six communities in the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca to represent the greatest degree of economic and social diversity possible, a practice followed in studies around the world.
Rural women play a critical role in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.
They provide innumerable benefits to agricultural systems around the world at all levels of the value chain, but their contributions often go unrecognized. This year, for the U.N. International Day of Rural Women (IDRW) on October 15, the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) would like to honor the significant contributions that women make to agriculture around the world by sharing photos and stories via our social media channels from our new book, “Portraits of Women Working with Maize in Mexico.” This nationwide documentary initiative seeks to shine light on the often unseen contributions that rural women make to their families, communities, countries and the world through agriculture.