The agricultural cycle of native maize and how it is affected due to climate change.

Talking about maize is talking about relationships, it is talking about food and identity. 

In the city, very few people know that there are families who work all year round to offer agroecological food. 

The defense of maize and its seed is a daily activity, a cycle that must be repeated to defend the territory.

Peasant science is the hope of the world, and that hope is still alive in Mexico City.

In addition to heat waves, other effects of climate change are visible in the crop fields of Mexico City, in the Tlalpan Mayor's Office. On the morning of July 26, 2023, some families lost part of the harvest due to the strong winds that hit the area, causing the plant to break and fall to the ground.

By Greta Rico

Maize is the center of origin of an entire civilization. In Mexico, when we talk about maize, we talk about the relationship between culture, gastronomy, agriculture, people and native seeds. Maize is also the basis of people's diets. It is part of an ancient diet, native to this region of the world and, above all, highly nutritious. 

In urban areas, such as Mexico City, a fast-paced and chaotic way of life prevents us from reflecting on the work behind the tortillas that reach our table. 

Very few people know that in the rural area of ​​this large city, there are peasant families who work all year round to offer agro-ecological food, made with local products. These families who carry out small-scale agriculture, free of pesticides and genetically modified seeds are convinced that feeding ourselves with native maize is an issue of food justice and that all people should have access to it.

For some years now, as a consequence of globalization, food trends have been imposed in Mexico City. For example, organic products, in addition to being expensive, go hand in hand with a stylization of consumption associated with high socioeconomic status. They are marketed under certifications that are inaccessible to small producers. 

To protect the native Mexican maize and the biodiversity of the edible plant varieties that inhabit our city, it is important to look at the countryside, to defend the territory by supporting those who, with effort, work and hope, sustain a model of food sovereignty based in fair and local trade. 

Native maize faces various threats such as global warming, as high temperatures, lack of rain and other natural phenomena are destroying crops. This is worrying because, given the effects of climate change, having few plant varieties puts food security and the culturally adequate diet of people in the world at risk.

The genetic information of native maize seeds may be the answer to the problems of the future. When planted year after year, they acquire characteristics that strengthen them against heat waves, droughts, pests and diseases. The care, conservation and diversification of the 7 varieties of maize that we have in Mexico City, and the 59 registered in the country, is and will be of vital importance to combat hunger and face food crises.

Based on data from the Friends of theEarth organization,during the 20th century, 75% of cultivated varieties were lost. In addition, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has indicated that climate change is modifying the productivity of crops throughout the planet, due to the alteration of rain cycles, and prolonged and more recurrent droughts, which can also cause diseases in pollinator species. 

Another threat to our maize is the commercial interests of transnational companies. Currently, in Mexico, seeds are a common good. This means that they belong to all of us. The exchange, selection and evolution of seeds carried out by peasant families is a daily activity. However, being signatories of various free trade agreements opens the door to the possibility of companies registering the intellectual property of native seeds. This, for example, could happen if our country decides to ratify the UPOV 91 convention..

Furthermore, industrial agriculture contributes to the emission of greenhouse gasses since large areas of land are deforested for the planting of monocultures with transgenic seeds, which causes loss of biodiversity, and pesticides that, it has been scientifically proven, cause damage to people's health.

For 10 years, a group calling itself the Collective Lawsuit against Transgenic Corn has been fighting in Mexican courts to ban the planting of transgenic corn throughout the country while companies such as Bayer - Monsanto, Syngenta, Du Pont and Dow request permits to plant this type of seed, putting our biodiversity at risk. 

Thanks to the efforts of the Collective Lawsuit there has been a precautionary measure that prohibits precautionary planting since 2013, and in October 2021, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation issued a definitive precautionary measure denying protection to the plaintiff companies.

This photo essay is a way to honor those who represent the hope of Mexico City, but it is also a way to tell us that the hope of the world is in the countryside, in the knowledge and peasant science of the families that take care of our seeds in the areas of Milpa Alta, Tlalpan and Xochimilco.

The selection of native maize seeds for each planting cycle is a peasant technology that contributes to the improvement of the plant, the care of biodiversity and the genetic adaptability of the different races of maize. In the image, Judith Cabello's family shells native blue maize a few hours before planting, on May 23, 2023, in the Milpa Alta Mayorship, in Mexico City.

The planting of native maize in Mexico City, as in different areas of the country, is seasonal, meaning that maize depends on rainwater. In the first months of 2023, as an effect of climate change, the rainy season was delayed, which in turn, forced the planting season to be delayed in practically all Mayorships in the south of the city. Julieta López Flores, 14, and her brother Atl, 9, participate in the family planting of native maize, on April 15, 2023 in the town of San Miguel Xicalco, in the Tlalpan Mayorship.

The ancestral and traditional methods of agriculture that some families in Mexico City still practice imply that the fields are worked by hand. Families like that of Tomás Flores, in the Tlalpan Mayorship, went to their Milpa on May 22, 2023, a month after sowing, to replant in the spaces where the seed had not grown. These methods do not use heavy machinery, agrochemicals or genetically modified seeds that harm people's health and the environment.

For educational purposes, Daniel Vázquez and his family planted a Milpa of maize, beans, squash and some medicinal plants in the patio of “La Casa de las Semillas”, a community native maize seed bank in the Milpa Alta Mayorship in Mexico City. Daniel shows the effects on his Maize on June 15, 2023: a storm with hail the size of a marble fell in the first days of that month, shredding and destroying the maize, and devastating the polyculture.

Due to the lack of rain during the 2023 season, maize did not develop in the same way as in previous years. In addition to this, during the month of May, an intense heat wave, a product of climate change and deforestation, hit Mexico City, causing significant losses in native maize crops. On July 6, 2023, the maize that Gabriela Morales planted in her chinampa in Xochimilco is completely dry and burned.

Planting native maize is a process of constant diversification and conservation, in which seed exchanges are crucial for the care of biodiversity. These seeds have been in peasant families for generations, like the chinampero maize that Gabriela Morales sows. These practices will help native maize adapt to the effects of climate change. September 7, 2023, Xochimilco, Mexico City.

The food industrialization of large cities has taught us to consider that farm products are dirty. However, one of the most tangible guarantees that the food we consume is free of chemicals and pesticides is the presence of insects, since not all are pests. Some are important pollinators for harvest cycles, like these beetles or the bees that can be seen among the native maize fields. September 7, 2023, Xochimilco, Mexico City.

Planting native maize using ancestral methods and agricultural traditions provides environmental benefits for the conservation of of Mexico City, such as soil regeneration, water harvesting, and the possibility of obtaining quality food throughout the year. Likewise, local consumption generates short food distribution chains, reducing polluting emissions to transport our food. Panoramic view of Mexico City from the Tlalpan Mayorship, on September 13, 2023.

One of the main problems with the conservation of native maize in Mexico City is marketing. Producer families cannot compete with the extremely low prices of industrialized agriculture, nor with the packaged and super-processed foods with little nutritional value that people in urban centers are used to buying in stores and supermarkets. In the image, Tomás Flores gathers a hucal of elotes (young maize) in the fields of San Miguel Xicalco, in Tlalpan, for the family sale on September 1, 2023.

Diego Elizalde's Milpa, in the Milpa Alta Mayorship in Mexico City, was left with empty spaces caused by the drought. In addition to this, since September 14, 2023, the maize began to look dry and yellow. The cob harvest season takes place between November and December, however, due to the drought, it will have to be brought forward a couple of months to prevent the maize from rotting.

From a plant of native maize, up to 200 seeds are obtained for the next cycle. The conservation work of peasant families is very important, since the United Nations Food Fund (FAO) estimates that 75 percent of agricultural diversity was lost between the years 1900 and 2000.The loss of different native maize varieties would threaten the food security of the people in Mexico.

In the harvest carried out by Monserrat Vázquez's family on September 16, 2023, products such as maize, huitlacoche (an edible mushroom that grows on maize), chilacayota and pumpkin flowers were obtained. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), around 70% of the food consumed in large cities is produced by small-scale agriculture.

Industrial agriculture uses pesticides that prevent the growth of other plants around maize, and introduces heavy machinery, contributing to the erosion and desertification of crop soils. On the contrary, the practice of making Milpa encourages the growth of a variety of edible plant species, and maintains the richness of the land. Josefina Rodríguez visits her Milpa to harvest, on September 1, 2023, at the Tlalpan Mayor's Office in Mexico City.

Like people, native Chilango maize sometimes grows in the city and sometimes is a product of migrations. Montserrat Vázquez, founder of the Mazahua Nixcome tortilla factory, located in the Cuajimalpa Mayorship, went to her grandmother's town in Ixtlahuaca, State of Mexico, on November 11, 2023, to harvest what will be her raw materials for the coming months.

The months of November and December are the harvest of cobs in seasonal sowing. With the agricultural cycle of native maize, everything is used: after the harvest, families select the ears and set aside the best ones for family consumption, sale and the next planting cycle. Likewise, the rest of the harvest, the leaves and the plant, are used as food for backyard animals and to make compost. November 10, 2023.

Learn more maize stories:

Women of maize, ancestral wisdom against an industry that sickens

Native maize, the inhabitant of Mexico City who resists eviction

About maize, we must continue talking