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Conservation agriculture: solution for Mexico’s maize farmers?

Using the conventional practices for growing maize in the state of Mexico—heavy tillage combined with removing and marketing residues—farmers are actually losing money, said CIMMYT research affiliate Bram Govaerts, during his invited presentation at a forum on results of projects conducted with the state of Mexico’s Institute for Training, Research, and Development in Agriculture (ICAMEX), on 12 September 2006.

“Many people were shocked to hear that,” explains Govaerts, who since 2002 has worked with Ken Sayre investigating and analyzing the results of the conservation agriculture trial begun at El Batán in 1991. “But when you consider the reduced labor costs of, say, zerotillage and residue retention, plus the higher crop yields that result, and compare that to the expense of removing and selling residues and the soil degradation that appears after five years or so, then conservation agriculture clearly wins as the money-making option.”

Held at the ICAMEX facilities in Toluca, the capital of the state of Mexico, the presentations were attended by 50 or more researchers, farmers, and officials, including state Secretary of Agriculture Arturo Osornio Sánchez, and ICAMEX Director General Jaime Segura Lazcano. The ICAMEX project, which is a collaboration between Cinvestav, Mexico’s Research and Advanced Studies Center; UAEM, the Autonomous University of Mexico State; and CIMMYT, and began in 2005, involves both field research and extension with state farmers.

“We’ve drawn a lot on the expertise and interest of Fernando Delgado Ramos, Superintendent of CIMMYT’s Toluca research station, who has actively promoted zero-tillage and other resource-conserving practices for maize farming in Mexico,” says Govaerts, who is with CIMMYT as a PhD student from K.U. Leuven Belgium and funded by VLIRUDC, Flemish Interuniversity Council – University Development Cooperation.