History was in the making at El Batán last Friday, 30 July 2010. After months of training, studying, and practical application, four ASGROW technicians successfully completed a written and applied test on conservation agriculture (CA), achieving the first-ever CIMMYT-approved CA certifications. This was part of a CIMMYT-led initiative to disseminate CA in central Mexico. For three years CIMMYT has been partnering with SAGARPA-Fondo Borlaug, Fundación Produce Estado de México, and Monsanto to establish sustainable agriculture in the Mexico’s central highlands.
“I never thought I would make it this far,” said Fermín Hernández Méndez, a technical consultant for ASGROW in Hidalgo, Mexico. “Reaching this point has not been easy, so now I am very proud of all the hard work it took to get here.”
Méndez was one of 10 ASGROW technicians who participated in the 2009-10 CIMMYT course “Technical Certification in Conservation Agriculture,” which focused on CA for highland maize in central Mexico (specifically the states of Mexico, Hidalgo, and Tlaxcala), and covered CA techniques for all farming stages. These technicians also supervise CA modules as part of a partnership between CIMMYT and seed company ASGROW, a Monsanto subsidiary.
“This certification for technicians in conservation agriculture is very important for CIMMYT,” said DG Tom Lumpkin. “It is through these technicians that we are able to promote CA dissemination and achieve advances in Mexican agriculture.”
Roughly a week prior, on 22 July 2010, the 10 technicians arrived at El Batán to take the certification test. Most were young, a visual reminder of how young or innovative farmers are usually quicker to adopt CA practices than their traditional elders. The test included an hour-long written exam followed by a two-hour practical exam, during which the technicians rotated between 12 stations where they had to demonstrate their CA knowledge in the field. Only four technicians successfully completed this rigorous examination (César Lorenzo García, Fermín Hernández Méndez, Jesús Cerecero Gutiérrez, and Valentín Reyes Castro), but all were invited to attend the certificate awarding ceremony, designed as an opportunity to praise everyone for their hard work. In addition to the nine attending technicians and their families, the Friday ceremony, which included dinner, was attended by Bekele Shiferaw, director of the Socioeconomics Program; Francisco Magallanes, El Batán superintendent; Carlos Buzio, marketing supervisor for ASGROW-Mexico; David López, highlands distribution channel representative for ASGROW-Mexico; Karen García, representing AGROBIO; and several members of the CA team.
“CIMMYT is an example of what can be achieved through applied science, with dedication, passion, and above all, with intelligence,” Shiferaw said in his speech during the ceremony, on behalf of Tom Lumpkin, who was unable to attend. “But I want to make clear that in order to reach the shared goal of sustainable agriculture, we must all work together: farmers, the private and public sector, and scientists.”
Technicians who did not achieve certification the first time around were still recognized for their efforts with a tool kit suitable for CA machinery work, and were reenrolled for the second certification course in 2010-11, which will be run in collaboration with SAGARPA and other partners.
“Conservation agriculture is becoming a big movement in Mexico, and we hope support for it will continue grow, as other partners like SAGARPA also increase their commitment,” said Bram Govaerts, head of the conservation agriculture team in Mexico and leader of the course, adding that he looks forward to further partnerships to positively impact Mexican agriculture.