José de Jesús Cortés
Oaxaca, Mexico, Oct 2 (EFE). – Indigenous farmers from southern Mexico are organizing and creating seed banks to defend traditional maize from the climate crisis, in the midst of the Mexican government’s fight against genetically modified grains, mainly from the United States.
In Oaxaca, southern Mexico, Bernardino Cruz, 48, planted two hectares of maize at the beginning of the rainy season, predicting a good harvest until the rains stopped during the last month.
For this reason, he changed his planting method from rainfed to irrigated so as not to lose the production of the native “belatove” corn, an ear about 10 centimeters long composed of mostly white kernels.
Half of this crop is destined for personal consumption and the rest for local sale in Santa Ana Zegache, an indigenous Zapotec community in Oaxaca that is home to more than 1,200 producers of corn, beans and squash.
“Without corn there is no life, because it is what we eat, both here in the towns and in the city,” the farmer told EFE.
A time of scarcity
The green of the irrigated crops fades about 500 meters away, in the fields of Pablo Mendoza, an octogenarian farmer who, with rain-fed sowing, was unable to save from the drought the two hectares he planted in April.
With the experience of more than 80 years of farming, Mendoza rescues native grains of “bolita” (little ball) and yellow corn among the dry milpas (orchards).
“We save them in case there is not a good crop next year, because we already have a reserve to plant again, right now there was no crop due to the lack of rain,” the farmer said.
Corn farmers are suffering from a lack of rain in Mexico, where 67.08% of the country is experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to the drought monitor of the National Water Commission (Conagua).
In this context, the National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock Research is applying the same ancestral strategy by providing training and economic resources to support the creation of 25 community banks in the eight geographical regions of Oaxaca.
The best seeds and those most suitable to face the effects of the climate crisis are protected there.
The seed bank of Santa Ana Zegache, 30 kilometers from the Oaxacan capital, is called “Casa del Rayo” (Lightning House) and was inaugurated this year.
Guadalupe Martínez León, a young producer and councillor for social development in the municipality of Santa Ana Zegache, explains that the bank will protect the corn varieties known as bolita, with color variations such as belatove, yellow and white, which are used for human and livestock consumption.
Martínez León considers it a primary objective to protect the grains and have this space for seeds after a year of drought.
“In 90% of the plots there was a loss, those that are still preserved are perhaps because they have some kind of irrigation or that they really had an auspicious time for their planting,” he lamented.
Among the protected species is “negrito” (black) corn, which is the domain of Eligia Pablo, who at 83 years of age continues to transform the corn she shelled into tortillas, the staple food in Mexico.
As she stirs the grains she saved from this year’s harvest with her hands, she remembers that more than three decades ago, the seeds were larger than they are now.
“When the crop was harvested the corn was bigger, now it has changed and it is smaller,” she said. EFE jjc/mcd