track down the families in Morelos, Mexico, who donated maize landraces to
CIMMYT in 1966-67. Would they still be cultivating them?
Maize is more than a crop in Mexico. While it provides food,
feed and raw materials, it is also a bloodline running through the generations,
connecting Mexico’s people with their past.
The fascinating diversity of maize in Mexico is rooted in
its cultural and biological legacy as the center of origin of maize. Landraces,
which are maize varieties that have been cultivated and subjected to selection
by farmers for generations, retaining a
distinct identity and lacking formal crop improvement, provide the
basis of this diversity.
As with any cultural legacy, the cultivation of maize
landraces can be lost with the passage of time as farmers adapt to changing
markets and generational shifts take place.
Doctoral candidate Denisse McLean-Rodríguez, from the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Italy, and researchers from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have undertaken a new study that traces the conservation and abandonment of maize landraces over the last 50 years in Morelos, Mexico’s second smallest state.
The study is based on a collection of 93 maize landrace
samples, collected by Ángel Kato as a research assistant back in 1966-67 and
stored in CIMMYT’s Maize Germplasm Bank. Researchers traced the 66 families in
Morelos who donated the samples and explored the reasons why they abandoned or
conserved their landraces.
The ‘Milpa Demonstration Garden’ outside the genebank offices is flourishing this year. Planted and managed by the CIMMYT germplasm bank staff, this project has been providing color and charm at the El Batan campus through the late summer for several years.
The motivation for the project is to provide a talking point
that links the rigorous science of CIMMYT’s largely monoculture-based research
work with traditional Mesoamerican polyculture, known as milpa. Typically, the milpa agricultural system is centered on
three main crops – often termed the ‘three sisters’ – maize, beans and squash.
CIMMYT maize germplasm bank staff preparing the order for the repatriation of Guatemalan seed varieties. Photo: CIMMYT
in Guatemala, which aims to enhance the sustainability of maize systems in the country. Denise Costich, head of the maize germplasm bank, received the award on behalf of CIMMYT during the event ‘Maize of Guatemala: Repatriation, Conservation and Sustainable use of Agro-biodiversity,’ held on September 7 2018, in Guatemala City.
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.