The many colors of maize, the material of life

By Jennifer Johnson

The use of corn husk as veneer has helped a town to preserve maize biodiversity, protect the environment and reduce migration.

Tonahuixtla, a small town located in Mexico’s state of Puebla, had suffered extreme environmental degradation due to deforestation and erosion. Agricultural land was in poor condition and the town had stopped producing many of their heirloom maize varieties, a loss to both biodiversity in the region and local culture. Poverty had increased, forcing many to migrate to bigger cities or to the United States for work. Those who were left behind, most of them women, had few ways to generate income to support their families.

Today, the story of Tonahuixtla is different. The town actively participates in reforestation and erosion-prevention activities. Landrace maize production is increasing, preserving the town and region’s biodiversity and customs. The residents have job opportunities that allow them to stay in their town and not migrate, all while preserving local biodiversity and protecting the environment.

What caused this change?

Corn husks.

Maize cobs and veneer made out of corn husks on display at an exhibition of the Totomoxtle project in Mexico City. (Photo: Denise Costich/CIMMYT)

Battling devastating viral diseases, also in plants

By Jennifer Johnson

Maize lethal necrosis has taught us that intensive efforts to keep human and plant diseases at bay need to continue beyond the COVID-19 crisis

When a maize lethal necrosis (MLN) outbreak happened in Kenya in 2011, scientists knew they needed to act fast. This viral disease, new to Kenya, was decimating maize fields. Within a few years, the viral disease spread rapidly in eastern Africa, through both insect vectors and contaminated seeds. If the virus were to spread into southern or West Africa, it would spell disaster for the smallholder farmers across the continent who depended on maize as a staple crop and for their family’s income and livelihoods.

Equal and climate-smart

By Shiela Chikulo

Women in Malawi are inspiring the next generation of smallholder farmers to adopt climate-smart technologies.

Sixteen years of consistent learning and practice of climate-smart agriculture, led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are paying off for Luganu Mwangonde. Together with her husband Kenson, she has established herself as a successful smallholder farmer in Malawi’s Balaka district. She enjoys the multiple benefits of high yields from diverse crops, surplus to sell at the markets and improved soil quality.