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, produces the biggest maize ears in the world. Its plants grow to such a height the only way to harvest the ears is on horseback. However, despite its vigor and size, the survival of this landrace is at risk as its genetic diversity fades and young people who might carry on growing traditions leave the rural land looking for a better life.
A new maize festival, launched in December 2018 aims to improve this remarkable landrace’s future by encouraging farmers to protect its genetic potential and creating a space for young people to have their views heard. The festival is a collaboration between Denise Costich, head of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) maize gene bank, 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. Meanwhile, CIMMYT researchers are studying the landrace’s genetic diversity with hopes of preserving its quality and working with farmers to safeguard its future. Research is also exploring the challenges around creating an enabling environment that will allow improved livelihoods through leveraging the merits of the local landrace maize.