|CGIAR Research Program
CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE)
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
Secretaria de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural, México (SADER)
Arturo Silva, CIMMYT
Across Mexico, more than 300,000 farmers have adopted improved maize seed, conservation agriculture and sustainable farming technologies which draw on research by the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), covering an area of more than one million hectares.
While maize is the main staple food in Mexico and is key to local food security, nutrition and tradition, productivity remains low, especially in the rainfed agroecologies. The MasAgro project – a joint initiative between MAIZE partner, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and Mexico’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER) – has worked since 2010 to support maize production, biodiversity conservation, food security and rural development challenges.
MasAgro is a collaborative effort involving more than 150 partners, including Mexico’s agricultural research system (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Forestales, Agrícolas y Pecuarias [INIFAP] and universities), local seed companies, multinational agri-food companies, farmers’ associations, local machinery workshops and several non-governmental organizations. MasAgro has so far developed 70 new maize hybrids specifically adapted for smallholder famers in Mexico, which are deployed in partnership with local seed companies. These companies sold over a million bags (25 kg each) of improved seed in 2019, contributing to improved yields and income for the smallholder farmers.
Maize is the main staple food in Mexico, but productivity remains low, especially in the rainfed agroecologies.
A 2019 study found that conservation agriculture can improve both long–term yield and soil quality in maize systems in Mexico. Using data from an experiment conducted between 1997 and 2018, MAIZE researchers compared the use of conventional tillage, reduced tillage and raised beds in maize-oat rotation systems and found that both maize and oats had significantly higher yields when planted in permanent raised beds, a conservation agriculture technique promoted by the MasAgro project.
The study found that maize yielded an additional 3.9 tons per hectare when planted in permanent raised beds compared to traditional tillage. On average, permanent raised beds generated an additional profit of USD 776 per hectare compared to tilled treatments. The conservation agriculture technique also increased the soil organic carbon by an average of 63%.
Conservation agriculture can improve long-term yield and soil quality in maize systems in Mexico.
Most farmers in Mexico grow maize in rainfed conditions, on a total of approximately 6 million hectares. In rainfed conditions alone, MasAgro helped the participant farmers achieve improved yields and income gains by 92% and 105%, respectively. On average, rainfed plots managed with MasAgro’s sustainable intensification practices yielded 25% more grain and revenue for maize farmers than plots managed with conventional practices on the same farm. In addition, Mexican seed companies increased their sales of improved seed by 55% from 2011 to 2018, as a direct result of the project’s efforts to develop and deploy improved maize varieties. Farmers participating in the MasAgro project had, on average, 30% higher maize yields than the average yields achieved in the region where they lived, and a 25% higher average income.
Studies show that farmers participating in the MasAgro project have benefited from both improved seed and agronomic management practices promoted by the project, and suggest that further scaling-out would contribute to increased production and food self-sufficiency in Mexico.
Header photo: Mexican seed multiplication specialists examine plants in the field. Photo by X. Fonesca/CIMMYT