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 Slideshow
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.
All 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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