UNAM's Puma Maize Steps Up for Mexico's Food Security

UNAM's groundbreaking Puma maize varieties offer Mexico a chance to reduce maize imports & avoid GM maize consumption. A vital step towards self-sufficiency & healthier agriculture.

UNAM's Puma Maize Steps Up for Mexico's Food Security
New Puma maize varieties hold the key to Mexico's agricultural independence and healthier produce. Image by Matthias Böckel from Pixabay

In a significant breakthrough, scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have unveiled three remarkable varieties of yellow maize that could turn out to be a game-changer for the nation. The new maize types, named Kuautli Puma, Mistli Puma, and Coztli Puma, have been carefully developed to address the pressing issues of overreliance on maize imports and the potential health hazards associated with genetically modified (GM) maize consumption.

Professor Margarita Tadeo Robledo, a prominent researcher and coordinator of UNAM's maize breeding program, explained that the inspiration for this innovative project arose from the necessity of having diverse seed varieties that can thrive in various ecological regions across Mexico. Simultaneously, these new varieties aim to tackle the critical challenge of reducing yellow maize imports that are primarily utilized for livestock feed and industrial purposes, while some even end up being consumed by humans.

While Mexico has achieved self-sufficiency in white maize production, the country has been grappling with an ever-increasing demand for yellow maize, primarily from the United States, ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994. The situation has reached a point where imports have skyrocketed, with the demand exceeding 20 million tonnes annually, while national production lags significantly at 3.3 million tonnes, creating a substantial deficit. As a result, the nation is heavily reliant on foreign sources to meet its needs, leading to concerns about food security and potential health risks due to the prevalence of transgenic (GM) maize in imported shipments.

A crucial statistic to note is that an overwhelming 95 percent of the imported yellow maize from the US consists of transgenic seeds. This alarming figure is supported by scientific evidence that highlights the adverse effects of GM crops on human health and the environment. Furthermore, it poses a significant threat to Mexico's native maize varieties, as these genetically modified seeds can contaminate local crops.

However, UNAM's research and development team is confident that their new Puma maize varieties can revolutionize the maize landscape in Mexico. These locally developed seeds have undergone rigorous testing in laboratories to ensure their safety and quality, offering a viable and healthier alternative to transgenic maize.

To realize the full potential of these innovative maize varieties, the university researchers emphasize the importance of forging strong partnerships and alliances with seed producers. These collaborations are crucial to enable mass production and commercialization of the Puma maize varieties. Nevertheless, they face resistance from powerful transnational companies that have formed marketing oligopolies and dominate the agricultural sector. These corporations not only control seed production but also have a stronghold on the supply of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides, known collectively as agro-toxins.

Overcoming these challenges calls for the promotion of agroecology—a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to agriculture. Furthermore, strengthening strategic alliances between government bodies and academic institutions dedicated to research can pave the way for the transition to projects with a social focus that prioritize public health and ecological preservation.

The Puma maize varieties have been specially developed for cultivation in Mexico's high valleys, situated at altitudes ranging from 1,800 to 2,400 meters above sea level. Covering a substantial area of 1.5 million hectares initially, the genetic improvement program at UNAM's Cuautitlán campus focuses on serving regions untouched by major corporations. By doing so, they aim to empower local producers with better prospects for successful harvests.

Each of the Puma maize varieties boasts distinct genetic characteristics, tailored to suit specific climatic niches and a range of applications. This versatility ensures that the new maize types can cater to various agricultural needs while thriving in diverse environments.

In conclusion, UNAM's groundbreaking development of the Kuautli Puma, Mistli Puma, and Coztli Puma maize varieties represents a significant stride toward addressing Mexico's heavy reliance on maize imports and reducing exposure to GM maize. With proper support and collaboration with seed producers, these maize varieties have the potential to transform the country's agricultural landscape. By embracing sustainable practices such as agroecology and prioritizing public health, Mexico can chart a more self-sufficient and ecologically responsible path to meet its maize demand. The future of Mexican agriculture is bright, with UNAM leading the way towards a more prosperous and healthy nation.