Food Security with Technology at its CoreBy Gabriela Mastache | Tue, 06/02/2020 - 18:21
Q: What vulnerabilities have been exposed regarding Mexican food security due to COVID-19?
A: Although Mexico produces a lot of food, it still imports from other countries, particularly from the US. The current pandemic poses a threat to open trade and Mexico could also be affected by trade restrictions that other countries impose to protect their people and internal markets from food shortages.
At the same time, the pandemic is reducing economic activities everywhere to minimum levels. This poses a threat to food production given that farmers and agricultural workers in Mexico and most of the Northern Hemisphere are just about to enter the spring/summer season. Farmers need certainty as they take risks by investing today for a harvest within several months. Mexico’s fields need to be prepared for sowing.
However, all crises bring challenges and opportunities. I believe that Mexico could take this opportunity to make its supply and value chains more integrated, resilient and flexible.
Q: What contribution is CIMMYT making to reduce these vulnerabilities?
A: CIMMYT is working with Mexico’s Ministry of Agriculture (SADER) and the private and social sector to address these threats. In fact, we see that Mexico is already answering to a CIMMYT-endorsed call to action for world leaders, which was recently published on the Food and Land Use Coalition website. This call to action urges countries to implement three key measures to avert a global food crisis that could increase the number of people suffering from chronic hunger by millions. The first is to keep the supply of food flowing across the world, the second to scale support to the most vulnerable and the third to invest in sustainable and resilient food systems.
Q: What is CIMMYT’s collaboration with Mexican government bodies in this process?
A: CIMMYT is working with SADER and Mexico’s National Research System (INIFAP) to contribute to a stable supply of basic grains grown sustainably in Mexico by offering technical advice to the more than 300,000 farmers that participate in MasAgro, CIMMYT’s bilateral collaboration project with Mexico for sustainable maize and wheat production.
Currently, MasAgro technicians and extension agents work with farmers to prepare soils for sowing, advising on optimal sowing densities and use of high-yielding improved varieties, agro-ecological pest management, fertilization and irrigation, among other activities that are essential to begin the crop production cycle in time.
Mexico and CIMMYT are also working with the agri-food sector to build Mexican farmers’ capacities to increase grain production sustainably and to sell the surpluses to local and multi-national agri-food companies in Mexico. This is part of wider country plans which are called Maize for Mexico and Wheat for Mexico. These plans are very much in line with the call for governments to work with the philanthropic and private sectors to strengthen and scale targeted food programs by linking them to foods that promote health and sustainable production. Currently, we work with Nestle, Kellogg’s, Grupo Bimbo, Gruma, Heineken and the Walmart Foundation to create a pull from the market for sustainable agriculture for smallholder farmers. We call this sustainable sourcing.
Q: How can we strengthen Mexico as a country of agricultural crop research and design activities?
A: CIMMYT has been instrumental for public policy formulation in Mexico and has positioned as one of Mexico’s most trusted partners over the past 10 years. As a result, MasAgro has had a positive impact in the lives of more than 300,000 farmers who have implemented conservation agriculture, improved seeds and sustainable farming technologies at more than 1 million ha across Mexico.
It would be great if Mexico continued investing in integrated development projects like MasAgro and scaled sustainable farming practices and technologies with innovative approaches like responsible local sourcing, while it promotes the replication of the MasAgro model in other countries.
Q: How can we strengthen farmers’ access to better crops and better farming techniques?
A: It is imperative for CIMMYT to improve farmers’ economic opportunities. This cannot be done without essential ingredients such as access to markets, capacity development, technology and inputs like seeds and fertilizer. Most importantly, better crops and farming technologies are worthless without the national agricultural research systems’ trust.
This is very much at the heart of what we do together with maize farmers in Mexico through MasAgro. CIMMYT breeds maize hybrids with conventional technologies and improves native maize seeds in collaborative projects with farmers. Then, this improved maize seed is tested in collaboration with the local seed sector that, in turn, commercializes the best adapted materials in Mexico’s growing regions.
Q: From a social science perspective, what topics is your center studying? How is this translated into change in the field?
A: I believe that social science is what makes change in the field and what fosters the uptake of our maize and wheat innovations by farmers and other partners. Foresight and targeting, analysis of adoption, gender and social inclusion and study of markets and value chains all help CIMMYT to prioritize, target, understand and enhance social inclusiveness of innovations and identify opportunities in maize and wheat agri-food systems. Without this work we simply would not be able to satisfy our customers’ needs because we would not know what they want and what could help to improve their livelihood.
Q: What role does CIMMYT want to play in the future?
A: I see CIMMYT working even closer with national systems and farming communities but especially working along the whole value chain with science and data towards improved decision-making. CIMMYT can be a catalyst of integrated programs. We want to keep discovering and helping to implement new solutions for those without food security and work toward achieving sustainable development goals.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is a research organization with presence in over 100 countries and more than 400 collaborators. It fosters the use of applied science to maize and wheat growing to improve the life of farmers