Great News: Agri-Food Firms Sourcing Grain from Mexican FarmersBy Bram Govaerts | Tue, 07/26/2022 - 10:00
Selling and buying grain for processing foodstuffs is a matter of supply and demand. Sourcing locally makes the most sense when it comes to avoiding high transportation and shipping costs of commodities sourced abroad. A commercial relationship between actors operating in the same region helps build a competitive market but also a sense of community: food producers, processors and manufacturers are all in the same boat. These win-win relationships are logical, desirable, even necessary but also elusive and, sadly, unattainable in many farming communities and regions of the world. However, the story is changing in several grain producing states of Mexico, where maize and wheat farmers are selling their produce to big Mexican and multinational companies that use it to produce different goods for the Mexican market. Only five years ago, these companies were importing hundreds of thousands of tons of grain, mainly from the US, to transform it into an array of products for animal and human consumption in Mexico.
Today, Mexican farmers are becoming more capable of meeting the supply needs of the companies participating in local sourcing initiatives by growing maize and wheat sustainably with conservation agriculture-based intensification practices and technologies. These methods help growers conserve and protect the natural resources that are essential for food production, including soils, water and biodiversity. Precision agriculture machinery and information and communication technologies also help farmers reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions by allowing for an optimal use of agricultural inputs, like fuel and fertilizer. Moreover, these innovations greatly contribute to increasing yields and profits when combined with seeds conventionally bred to withstand hotter and drier weather conditions, and to resist known and emerging pests or diseases.
Since 2018, maize farmers receiving expert agronomic and market advice from researchers and field technicians of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) have sustainably produced more than 420,000 tons of grain on more than 38,000ha in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Jalisco, Sinaloa and Sonora. Over that period, they have seen their yields grow by between 20 percent and 30 percent, and their profits increase by 30 percent as compared to the yields and profits achieved by other farmers who are not yet participating in CIMMYT’s sustainable sourcing projects with leading agri-food companies. Similarly, wheat farmers have sustainably produced more than 130,000 tons of grain on more than 20,000ha in Guanajuato and Sonora, and have also achieved similar yield and income gains. In five years, more than 3,000 maize and wheat farmers from the states mentioned above have successfully sold their grain to commercial partners that used to buy most of their grain abroad.
This is, indeed, great news for Mexico’s farmers and consumers. As the global food systems enter a new period of uncertainty and instability fueled by conflict, inflation and climate change, local food production systems need to become more competitive and resilient to external shocks and system disruptions. In agriculture, such resilience can only grow on more inclusive and reciprocal relationships between food producers, processors, distributors and consumers. For that reason, the local sourcing projects in central and northwest Mexico have become a prime example of the mutually beneficial relationships that drive the much-needed transformation toward resilience and sustainability in food systems.
Bram Govaerts is Director General a.i. and CEO at CIMMYT. He is an international authority on maize and wheat cropping systems who works for the successful transition to sustainable intensification of small-scale farming in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Govaerts advises public, private and social organizations worldwide and is an active member of research groups and programs, including the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Knowledge Systems for Sustainability platform, the A. D. White Professor-at-Large program at Cornell University, and the American Society of Agronomy.