Hellin, J.; Keleman, A.;Lopez, D.; Donnet, L.; Flores, D.
A focus of agricultural research efforts in México is on breeding higher-yielding improved maize (Zea mays L.) varieties and enhancing farmer adoption of these varieties despite the fact that maize landraces continue to play a key role in the livelihoods of farmers. There are a number of reasons, not least the economic ones, behind the decision of farmers to grow landraces. Grain from landraces can be more profitable when farmers access specialty maize markets. Furthermore, many landraces produce multiple products, besides grain, for which there is a market, such as husks (“totomoxtle”) for wrapping tamales (a traditional dish). We explore in more detail the rationale behind the decision of farmers to grow landraces. For illustrative purposes, we look at maize markets for blue and pozole-making in the Mexican central highlands. Using a value chain approach, we explore the challenges and opportunities farmers face in accessing these markets. The pozole (a traditional dish) value chain relies on localized production and infrastructure investment that contributes to value-adding activities such as producing pre-cooked pozole. Blue maize, meanwhile, is more widely cultivated, and although there are fewer opportunities for farmers to add value, this grain feeds into small-scale, largely female-run businesses. Both markets contribute to local livelihood improvements and in situ conservation, but careful policy design is necessary to scale-up these markets without diminishing their benefits. This research helps explain the persistence of maize landraces in Mexican agriculture. Thus, it has implications for the direction of agricultural research. It provides plant breeders and nutritional experts with information on the agronomic characteristics required by producers and quality traits demanded by the market. It suggests that plant breeders should focus more attention on improving farmer-identified quality characteristics of their landraces along with higher and more stable yields. The desired impact would be a segmented maize seed sector characterized by both improved landraces and improved maize varieties.
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