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CA gives farmers new strategies for coping with change

The auditorium at El Batán was filled with caps and hats on 09 October, when a group of 32 farmers and technicians from the states of Hidalgo and Mexico visited CIMMYT. The visit was organized as a result of farmer interest in CA and their desire for more information on pest management in maize.

Jacobo Montiel Villalbán, a farmer from Soyaniquilpan in the State of Mexico, produces barley and alfalfa in addition to maize and last week was his second visit to CIMMYT; his first was to the Toluca experiment station. “Today I’m with a different group, but we all agree that what CIMMYT does gives us better options to continue farming; otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible…,” he said.

Most of the visiting farmers were subsistence maize producers, facing various problems that depended upon their locality. On average, they have practiced CA for one or two years and, given the beneficial changes they have experienced in both their fields and their livelihoods, they are interested in learning more about the uses of CA and how to deal with related issues. Since some of the farmers already maintain CA modules on their land as part of CIMMYT’s CA hub for maize in Mexico’s central highlands, when their maize leaves became covered with spots, they were able to ask their partnering Asgrow and Dekalb technicians for more information on pest management. The technicians, who are trained by CIMMYT’s CA specialists, then asked for the center’s support in organizing a visit for these farmers. Also involved in the CA hub are private sector enterprises, machine shops, seed companies (such as Asgrow and Dekalb), and public sector organizations such as SAGARPA, INIFAP, and CIMMYT.

“In Ixmiquilpan [Hidalgo], CA has the potential to help farmers because it incorporates organic matter (residue retention) into the soil, which softens and improves its texture; organic matter is also a good pH regulator. This is my third visit to CIMMYT, but today I learned something new about machinery,” commented agronomist and technician Juan Antonio Sánchez Zamora. Two CA program members presented during the event: Andrea Chocobar spoke about general CIMMYT activities and Ricardo Romero presented on CA. Leocadio Martínez, Global Maize Program, gave presentations on the pests that attack maize and how to diagnose and control them in the field. Participants were also given a manual to help identify field pest infestations in a timely manner.

Though the visiting farmers mentioned diverse problems—such as saline soils, pests, compacted soil, and yield losses—at the end of the visit after they had observed the long-term trials that serve as a training platform; listened to El Batán field superintendent and agronomist Francisco Magallanes describe sowing methods and machinery they use; and saw for themselves the effects of CA application; the visitors agreed that the solution is change. As farmer Montiel explained, “Our fields change, they’re never the same from year to year. So the solution is to change—that is, if our fields change, we farmers have to change as well.”