Maize was born in Latin America.
The Crop Trust presents:
maize in color. Ancient diversity that would be familiar to an Aztec or Inca farmer still ripens in the fields in countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. More recently – in relative terms – the highly productive cereal was adopted in a big way by African farmers, who depend on it as a food security crop central to many a local cuisine. In Southeast Asia it’s harvested on a large scale and is indispensable to farmers of poultry and livestock. While something of an invisible crop in the region, it’s quietly become the second most grown cereal here after rice.
Since maize can be found just about everywhere, we tasked the photographers with doing just that. Maize is a highly industrialized crop in many countries and has picked up a reputation for uniformity. As the images here will show, that’s far from the whole story.
maize IN COLOR DIVERSITY: SOUTHEAST ASIA
A maize farmer in the Davao region of the Philippines performs an inspection tour of his crop on the back of his water buffalo. Fifty-four farmers in the village of Pueblo Antonia grow maize over an area of about 30 hectares. Maize readily brings to mind images of its original homeland in Central and North America, or the maize belt of sub-Saharan Africa, but it is also a Southeast Asian crop. It is in fact the second most widely grown cereal crop in the region – coming after rice, of course.
Herminia Dajao, 86, prepares corn for milling in her family home in Pueblo Antonia, Davao. Maize is an especially traditional crop in Davao. Its history goes back to the galleon trade between Spanish colonies nearly 500 years ago, when ships carried seeds across the Pacific Ocean from Mexico. Those seeds became the basis for uniquely Filipino maize diversity that farmers shared, bred, and handed down through the centuries.
A simple but effective tool to remove the kernels from dried maize cobs. Maize is the staple food of 20% of people living in the Philippines, concentrated in the south of the country in regions like Davao. About 300,000 hectares are estimated to be planted to native landraces, which typically have pearl-white kernels. In most places farmers are able to plant two times per year, so over the last five centuries, seeds of this crop may have been planted and harvested close to a thousand times. On such a scale, huge amounts of unique genetic variation emerge. The Philippines’ national maize collection is the largest in Southeast Asia, containing some 1,300 types. The Crop Trust has supported the National Plant Genetic Resources Laboratory in regenerating around half of this collection to ensure its continued conservation, while at the same time characterizing the diversity to help breeders find the useful traits held within it.
In Pueblo Antonia, Davao, pots of maize and stew balance over a fire that is fueled by leftover cobs. Cooks transform and prepare maize many different ways in Southeast Asia, but in the Philippines it fits easily into an otherwise rice-dominated cuisine. Coarsely milled and boiled, it takes on a very similar appearance to a pot of white rice. While this is sometimes regarded as a cheaper substitute eaten only by the poor, maize is in many ways a more nutritious staple, with more protein and a lower glycemic index.
In Davao City, smallholder maize farmers bring their harvest to a mill, grinding the kernels to eat or sell. Together, the Philippines’ million maize farmers produce a harvest valued at more than US$1.5 billion. Less than a quarter is eaten directly as meal, while the largest share now goes to feeding poultry and other animals. Another 13% is processed further into special products – such as the cornstarch used to prepare the delicate coconut-milk dessert maja blanca.
A field of maize amid the mountains of Sơn La Province, Vietnam. Maize does not have as long of a history here as in the Philippines, and there is little uniquely Vietnamese diversity for farmers to work with, but the crop is greatly and increasingly important. Across Vietnam, maize is the second most important food crop after rice.
In Sơn La Province, farmers of the Thái ethnic group harvest maize. The crop is especially prevalent among the region’s many ethnic minority communities, who often intersperse maize fields with upland and lowland rice, cassava and other crops. Traditionally the maize they plant has functioned as a food security crop for times of rice shortage, but recently it has become an important commercial crop in its own right.
A Thái farmer in Sơn La Province catches a sack of harvested maize as it begins to roll downhill. In Southeast Asia, maize can often be found in rugged terrain and at higher elevations where many other crops are difficult to farm. But these marginal lands add up: Vietnamese farmers plant around a million hectares of Southeast Asia’s 10 million hectares of maize, roughly the same share as in the Philippines.
A truck brims with ears of maize on the side of a highway in Sơn La Province. Yellow hybrid maize varieties have been widely adopted by Vietnamese farmers since the 1990s. In that time, yields have increased from 1.5 metric tons per hectare to 4.4 metric tons. Assuming this field has achieved an average yield, the truck is carrying the harvest from about one and a half hectares.
A hill of maize ears, stored on an old runway, is protected under a tarp as rain sweeps over Sơn La Province. These torrential rains brought flash floods and landslides to six provinces of northern Vietnam in August 2016. With the climate and weather patterns growing unpredictable in the mountains, maize will have to adapt rapidly to a wider range of conditions, from flooding to severe drought. All maize-growing countries are confronting this reality, and only by sharing and using diversity from all around the world can breeders make maize more resilient than ever before.
Workers at a processing site in the provincial capital city of Sơn La expertly launch ears of maize into a mechanized grinder. Feed maize for animal consumption is ground whole, cob and all. Both the industrialization of processing and the high demand for animal feed have brought livelihood opportunities to maize growing regions of Southeast Asia. Since 1990, the region’s total annual maize production has shot up from 16.7 to 40.6 million metric tons.
Pigs feed on ground maize at a processing site close to Sơn La city. Vietnam has the world’s fifth largest population of pigs, and demand for pork is rising along with incomes and urbanization. The country has a target of adding 10 million more pigs to its existing herd of 30 million by 2020. This is great news for maize farmers, who have never had a better market. But the question of sustainability rests on the maize crop itself. Only diverse crops that are well adapted to local conditions across Southeast Asia will meet the region’s growing needs in the long term.
Photos by Getty Images Reportage
photographer Brent Stirton Maize in Color Diversity: Latin america
Workers harvest different varieties of maize from the fields of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Texcoco, Mexico. The ears collected from each individual plant are kept separate in order to gather precise data on their productivity.
Fields of maize planted by CIMMYT in Texcoco. CIMMYT distributes seeds all over the world from its collection of more than 28,000 maize types. However, the collection only safeguards types that can grow here under Mexican climates and seasons.
A CIMMYT worker husks an ear of maize to check the grain’s ripeness in an evaluation field in Texcoco. Maize collected in genebanks has to be grown in the field occasionally to replenish seed stocks, and this is also an opportunity to record information that helps breeders discover useful traits, like the exact number of days from planting to harvest.
A CIMMYT technician tends to maize plants in a greenhouse in Texcoco. Planting genebank seeds in a greenhouse is a way of testing the plants’ responses to real-world dangers in a controlled environment. These include diseases like maize lethal necrosis, a combination of two viruses that have devastated East African maize in recent years. Trials of genebank material have found a few valuable lineages that are more immune to the disease.
A technician tests the moisture content of freshly harvested kernels in a CIMMYT evaluation field. The percentage of water in kernels is not obvious without special instruments, but it determines how a variety can be stored and used. To match maize to its many uses, breeders need a wide range of traits to choose from, now and in the future.
Farmers from the cooperative Maizes de Colores (Maizes of Colors) in Temoaya compare some of the different ears they have harvested. Maizes de Colores members work to preserve the farming traditions of the many-colored and highly specialized native landraces known as criollos.
Farmers from the Maizes de Colores cooperative prepare a traditional tortilla maize before grinding it into flour. In a process known as nixtamalization, the kernels are soaked with lime or ash to enrich key nutrients. This technology has allowed people to subsist on nutritionally balanced maize-based diets for thousands of years.
A woman sells tortillas made from white maize out of her house in Temoaya. The tortilla and similar flat breads are made from ground maize all over the Americas. Similar tortillas were prepared by the ancient Maya and in even greater quantity by the Aztecs, who served them with almost every meal.
A kilogram of fresh tortillas weighed for sale in a home business in Temoaya. Where it was traditionally women at home who ground maize and rolled tortillas, the process has become highly industrialized in recent times. Yet with the average Mexican eating 90 kilograms of tortillas every year, there are still opportunities for farmers and their families to earn income by selling handmade tortillas.
At the market in Ecatepec, fresh sweetcorn for making elotes arrives in bundles from the field. About two million metric tons of sweetcorn are grown every year worldwide, much of it by small farmers and gardeners. This is a delicious, but comparatively small harvest next to the billion metric tons of other maize varieties produced.
Different colored maize landraces displayed at a seed fair in Texcoco. Seed fairs are opportunities for farmers to discover and spread native maize types that have fallen out of use, keeping diversity alive in the field and the kitchen.
Photos by Getty Images Reportage
photographer Juan Arrendodo
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, known by […]
This campaign is made possible by the generous support of DuPont.
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