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.
A farmer who took part in the KIT study in Bihar, India. Photo: Genevieve Audet-Bélanger/KIT.
Maize is a staple food in many developing countries, and ensuring that smallholder farmers have access to and are familiar with the improved maize varieties available to them is critical in improving food security worldwide for farming families and consumers. In order to understand whether smallholder farmers have access to improved maize varieties and how the organization of the seed sector supports this, the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) recently conducted four studies on seed sector functioning and the adoption of improved maize varieties.
Felix Corzo Jimenez , a farmer in Chiapas, Mexico, examines one of his maize plants infected with tar spot complex.
By Jennifer Johnson, Terry Molnar and Martha Willcox
In southern Mexico and Central America a fungal maize disease known as tar spot complex (TSC) is decimating yields, threatening local food security and livelihoods. In El Portillo, Chiapas, Mexico, local farmer Felix Corzo Jimenez surveys his maize field sadly… “It’s been a terrible year. We’ll be lucky if we harvest even 50 percent of our usual yields.” He fingers a dried up maize leaf covered in tiny black dots, and pulls the husk off of an ear to show the shriveled kernels, poorly filled-in. “Tar spot is ruining our crops.”
Scientists agree maize originated in Mexico thousands of years ago. CIMMYT/ Peter Lowe
For Mexicans, the “children of corn,” maize is entwined in life, history and tradition. It is not just a crop; it is central to their identity.
Even today, despite political and economic policies that have led Mexico to import one-third of its maize, maize farming continues to be deeply woven into the traditions and culture of rural communities. Furthermore, maize production and pricing are important to both food security and political stability in Mexico.
One of humanity’s greatest agronomic achievements, maize is the most widely produced crop in the world. According to the head of CIMMYT’s maize germplasm bank, senior scientist Denise Costich, there is broad scientific consensus that maize originated in Mexico, which is home to a rich diversity of varieties that has evolved over thousands of years of domestication.