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Improved maize varieties for Oaxaca

Following on from the story “Improved seed reaches the Pacific” in issue 1750 of the Informa, we would like to recognize the hard work of all those involved in the project “Modernization of maize production in Oaxaca with adapted maize cultivars to increase yields”. The project aims to help farmers in the coastal, Papaloapan and Mixtecas regions of Oaxaca to access and produce improved maize cultivars through a participatory maize breeding (PMB) initiative, and to ensure the in situ conservation of maize diversity. The project was initiated in 2009 and is a collaboration between CIMMYT and the research extension services of the Autonomous University of Chapingo’s South Regional Center (CRUS-UACh) in Oaxaca. It is led by Suketoshi Taba in CIMMYT and Humberto Castro in CRUS-UACh, with the participation of Víctor Chávez of CIMMYT and Eliud Oliva and Iván Vásquez of CRUSUACh, and other staff of both institutions.

Drawing on a diverse gene pool, pre-breeding work at CIMMYT’s maize germplasm bank produced breeder seed of improved open pollinated varieties (OPVs) and inter-variety hybrids (IVHs). Project partners at CRUS-UACh produced declared seed (an intermediate category in the national seed system with less purity than certified seed) of these cultivars and delivered them to farmers, along with promising cultivars from other Mexican institutions and landraces collected from the communities. In addition to evaluation at CIMMYT, many trials, demonstration plots, and seed increase nurseries have been planted in farmers’ fields in different maize-producing regions in Oaxaca. The best-performing cultivars have been increased to make seed available to farmers and to the germplasm banks for conservation and enhancement. Unlike landraces, the improved varieties have genetic traits that allow mechanization and adoption of modern maize production practices, and high yield potentials similar to commercial hybrids.

The PMB approach has captured the attention of many farmers, students, extension workers, and government personnel who have participated in the project. It has proved its worth as an alternative approach to providing useful exotic germplasm to small-scale farmers in Oaxaca, linking them with public maize research and breeding without generating intellectual property rights claims. It can help in the evolution and conservation of local cultivars through crossing with new germplasm by farmer breeders as well as participating researchers. Farmers’ systems of seed exchange within social networks can operate for the adapted cultivars produced through PMB just as they do for other varieties. As a mark of the project’s rapid success, in the last two years 74 tons of seed have been produced and delivered to farmers for grain, forage, and elote (green ear) production.