Jose Esteban Sotelo Mariche is an agronomist from the
coastal region of Oaxaca, Mexico with a specialization in food security and
rural development. He works with smallholder native maize farmers, helping them
to produce more maize using sustainable practices and to commercialize their
native maize in local and international markets. Jose Esteban was recently
awarded the MAIZE Youth Innovators Award 2019 – Latin America in the category
of change agent for his involvement in this work.
The awards, an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on
Maize (MAIZE), seek to recognize the contributions of young women and men who
are implementing innovations in Latin American maize-based agri-food systems.
This is the third instalment of the awards, following Asia in October 2018 and
Africa in May 2019. The awards ceremony took place at the 23rd Latin American
Maize Reunion in Monteria, Colombia on October 9, 2019.
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.
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.