By: 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.