By: Matthew O’Leary
Felipa Martinez shows off some of her family’s maize from last year’s harvest. Photo: Matthew O’Leary
Felipa Martinez, an indigenous Mexican grandmother, grins as she shows off a bag bulging with maize cobs saved from last harvest season. With her family, she managed to farm enough maize for the year despite the increasing pressure brought by climate change.
Felipa’s grin shows satisfaction. Her main concern is her family, the healthy harvest lets her feed them without worry and sell the little left over to cover utilities.
“When our crops produce a good harvest I am happy because we don’t have to spend our money on food. We can make our own tortillas and tostadas,” she said.
Her family belongs to the Chatino indigenous community and lives in the small town of Santiago Yaitepec in humid southern Oaxaca. They are from one of eleven marginalized indigenous communities throughout the state involved in a participatory breeding project with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) to naturally improve the quality and preserve the biodiversity of native maize.
These indigenous farmers are custodians of maize biodiversity, growing seeds passed down over generations. Their maize varieties represent a portion of the diversity of the 59 native Mexican races of maize, or landraces, which first developed from wild grasses at the hands of their ancestors. These different races (or types) of maize diversified through generations of selective breeding, adapting to the environment, climate and cultural needs of the different communities.
By Jennifer Johnson
Tortillas made of zinc-enriched biofortified maize. Photo: HarvestPlus.
The first zinc-enriched maize varieties developed specifically for farmers in Guatemala were released this month as part of efforts to improve food and nutrition security in a country where over 46 percent of children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
by Jennifer Johnson
Left to right: Miguel Lengua, director general of Maxi Semillas S.A.S; Bram Govaerts, Latin America regional director at CIMMYT; Martin Kropff, CIMMYT director general; Howdy Bouis, interim HarvestPlus CEO; and Felix San Vicente, CIMMYT maize breeder at the launch of new biofortified zinc maize. Photo: Jennifer Johnson/CIMMYT.
A new zinc-enriched maize variety was released in Colombia on February 23 to help combat malnutrition in South America.
Zinc is an essential mineral that plays an important role in human development, but is not naturally produced by humans. Zinc deficiency can lead to impaired growth and development, respiratory infections, diarrheal disease and a general weakening of the immune system. In Colombia, an average of 22 percent of the population is affected by zinc deficiency. However in certain regions, such as the pacific coast and Amazonia, up to 65 percent of the population is deficient in zinc.
Women and youth help lead efforts to adopt climate-friendly farming and safeguard indigenous maize yields
Farmers walk through a field that has been cleared by slash and burn agriculture in the Yucatan peninsula. Photo: Maria Boa/ CIMMYT
The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico has been hard hit by drought and extreme weather events related to climate change in recent years, exacerbating local poverty and food insecurity. In addition, slash-and-burn agriculture techniques have led to environmental degradation and contribute to climate change. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is working to help indigenous Mayan farming families in the Yucatan peninsula adapt to and mitigate climate change, increasing maize yields and food security while minimizing negative environmental impact. This comes as world leaders mull a crucial decision on agriculture at the UN Climate talks in Bonn, a decision that could support farmers everywhere to take similar actions.