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.
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.
Just in time for International Women’s Day, a series of videos have been published by the GENNOVATE initiative to raise awareness about and explore the interlinkages between gender norms, agency, and innovation in agriculture and natural resource management. The videos include stories of men and women from Mexico, Tanzania, and Nepal from the perspectives of local women and men themselves.