Corn, the great Mexican invention for the world

Highlighting the high value of corn, being an invention of Mexico, after being domesticated 10,000 years ago by ancient pre-Hispanic populations, from a wild seed known as teocintle.

Corn, the great Mexican invention for the world
Maize, the great Mexican invention for the world . Image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Faced with the challenge of guaranteeing food for an ever-growing population, Mexican corn, and its different varieties represent an opportunity to have a food source for the future, regardless of the effects of climate change. Corn is an invention of the Mexicans, but at the same time, we can say that Mexicans are an invention of corn, because it would not have been possible to build the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mesoamerica without this crop.

Corn is a wonderful plant because it has great adaptability so that it can be seen growing at sea level and reach great heights, characteristics that have led it to other parts of the world as food. This seed is versatile because today it is also used as a fodder cereal or as a source of biofuel, all thanks to the evolutionary work that can be attributed to Mexican farmers.

Corn is produced in peasant or commercial agriculture. The difference between the two types of agriculture is the intensity of production, so that a peasant farmer may only produce up to three tons per hectare, while an intensive producer such as those in Sinaloa produces up to eight tons for the same amount of land. At first glance and under a global vision, where the aim is to increase production to guarantee food, the peasant farmer is often mistakenly seen as a "burden" for national agriculture because he produces less than three tons per hectare.

However, if seen from a critical point of view, we will discover that small producers, by producing only for their own consumption, continue with the millenary practice that led Mexicans to invent the corn we know today, by selecting the best grains for future plantings. In this way, small producers are actually the engineers of corn, because in their selection process they ensure the most resistant genetic varieties for the future, in addition to helping the evolutionary process to continue.

As a result, there are small farmers who are able to plant corn in arid or rocky places where hybrid corn would normally never grow, all because they have helped to select the grains that are best adapted to these conditions. In short, farmers are producing where intensive producers could not, so we are obtaining corn in places where conventional agriculture would not be profitable or is very complicated.

It turns out that small farmers together work about 4.6 million hectares, and when that production is multiplied, we are talking about millions of tons of corn, enough to feed 55 million Mexicans. In this context, small farmers contribute significantly to feeding nearly 40 percent of the Mexican population. Contrary to what many consider, small producers continue to be an important key to corn production in Mexico since it is thanks to their work that today there is a great variety of at least 60 native breeds that have adapted to different climate and ecosystem conditions.

The real challenge is to see how we can make these populations dedicated to small-scale production more efficient, as this would benefit both these producers and the Mexican population that consumes this grain. This strengthening work does not imply homogenizing the work processes of farmers with large producers, and he emphasized that the role of small producers must be revalued to stop seeing them as backward people or as people who do not contribute to the production and see them as strategic producers who guarantee the genetic diversity that helps to produce new corn.

This is of vital importance, especially now that we are facing a phenomenon such as a climate change, and where it is essential to generate resilience, and this even implies guaranteeing this resilience in food production for the future. If we were to make the mistake of eliminating these small producers or adding them to the production of large-scale hybrid corn, what would happen in the long term would limit the opportunity to have corn options in the event of any change in the climate or any adversity.

If production under these conditions enters into crisis, many people would go without food because they would be condemned to have no other option but to consume corn that is in crisis because it does not have a genetic variation that allows it to reproduce and grow in conditions different from the ones it is found in. Therefore, Mexico, apart from being the source that gave rise to corn, will continue to be a strategic country for future food supply and in this sense, corn, its main invention, will play a key role in which farmers and small producers will continue to be "the engineers of agriculture".