A picture taken from several types of corn cobs and seeds in "La Casa del Maiz", in the town of San Juan Evangelista, municipality of Tlajomulco, Mexico, 26 September 2023 (Issued 28 September 2023). La Casa del Maíz, in western Mexico, protects 45 varieties of native seeds and promotes the conservation of this grain in the midst of Mexico's fight against genetically modified and yellow corn, particularly from the United States. EFE/Francisco Guasco

Mexican organizations save pre-Hispanic agriculture

Guadalajara, Mexico, Sept 29 (EFE).- On September 29, National Corn Day, Mexican civil organizations are trying to save the milpa, a farming system of Mesoamerican origin based on maize that represents an alternative to rising food prices, the climate crisis and transgenic seeds.

Seven years ago, in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, the Coamil collective planted a cornfield in the middle of Federalismo Avenue, one of the busiest streets in the city and just minutes from the historic center.

Members of the Coamil Federalismo collective pose for a photograph at the end of an interview with EFE, in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on 28 September 2023 (Issued 29 September 2023). EFE/ Francisco Guasco

Corn and sunflowers, among other crops, grow in this space, while the subway runs beneath them all day.

Antonio Aguirre, one of the founders of the group that has joined the “Without maize, there is no country” campaign against the use of transgenic seeds, explained to EFE that they are intervening in public space so that neighbors can learn about the ancestral knowledge of maize fields.

“Since pre-Hispanic times corn has fed us, it has given us the possibility of generating an infinite number of foods, even by itself, cooked or roasted, it is a superfood. From a nutritional point of view it is important and also from a cultural point of view,” he said in reference to National Corn Day.

Pre-Hispanic Food

According to the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the milpa, which in Nahuatl indigenous language means “sowing on a plot,” is an agricultural system that dates back to pre-Hispanic times.

In the milpa different foods are planted to make the most of the land, although there are many types of crops, the main combination is corn, beans, squash, and chiles, the basis of Mexican cuisine.

Melina Gil described the system as providing a healthy and sustainable diet for the community, as well as being good for the environment.

Angeles Ortiz Sanchez of the Teocintle collective, supervises an urban cornfield, in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, on 28 September 2023 (Issued 29 September 2023). EFE/ Francisco Guasco

“(The plants) do a fabulous teamwork, the corn gives support to the beans to be tangled, the beans absorb the nitrogen and the squash absorbs moisture from the earth, it is a synergy that restores the soil,” she explained.

These benefits continue after the harvest, because the remaining fodder can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and thanks to the polyculture, the land remains nourished and with less erosion.

Food and Knowledge

What the corn field produces is generally used for personal consumption or barter.

Víctor Ibarra, a resident of the neighborhood where the Coamil collective installed the cornfield, said that he has been participating in the harvest with his daughter for several years.

He explains it has helped them to recognize the importance of self-sufficient food.

“It opens our eyes to the fact that the corn we consume does not come from the supermarket, but from the hands of farmers who work the land,” he said.

The Teosintle collective has about twenty members who have been cultivating nearly three hectares of land with corn and other fruits, herbs and vegetables for 10 years.

Together, they nurture the land before the storm hits and plant the seeds they gathered the previous year in the furrows.

“It is a labor of love for the land, of unity, because if we are experiencing a crisis of values right now, I feel that we are mending it, rebuilding that unity, with the collective planting of corn,” said Ángeles Ortiz, a member of the organization.

The collective wants to train and then offer workshops and teach anyone how to grow a cornfield or basic food in a cleaner way and with high nutritional value.

“Knowing how to grow corn, beans and squash is the basis of your life. We know that in the future the lives of many people may depend on this knowledge of the (natural) cycle, sowing and cultivation,” the activist said.

In addition to resisting the invasion of genetically modified grains and foods, the organizations is fighting possible local legislation that seeks to monitor urban gardens and urban agriculture and imprison those who do not have a permit.

If this law is approved, it would endanger not only autonomous crops, but also the ancestral knowledge that this form of agriculture embodies, the activists agreed. EFE