by Carolyn Cowan
Within a lush and humid valley in the state of Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific coast, a giant resides. The local maize landrace, named ‘Jala’ after the valley in which it grows, grows to an astonishing height and produces the largest maize ears in the world. Despite its vigor and size, the survival of this landrace is at risk as its genetic diversity fades and young people, who could carry on growing traditions, leave the rural land in search of an easier life.
A new maize festival, Feria de la Mazorca del Maiz Nativo, or Native Maize Festival, aims to improve this remarkable landrace’s future. It was launched on December 10, 2018, in the town of Coapan, which adjoins the valley’s namesake town of Jala. The festival encourages farmers to protect the genetic potential of their landrace, while creating a forum for young people to air their views. This event is a collaboration between Denise Costich, head of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) maize genebank, Carolina Camacho of CIMMYT’s socioeconomics program, Victor Vidal of INIFAP-Nayarit, and local partners, including Gilberto Gonzalez, Ricardo Cambero, Alondra Maldonado, Ismael Elias, Renato Olmedo (CIMMYT) and Miguel Gonzalez Lomelí.