jueves, octubre 11, 2012

Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential

Antonio Turrent Fernández, Timothy A. Wise, and Elise Garvey

Today in Mexico City, GDAE’s Timothy A. Wise and Mexican researcher Antonio Turrent are presenting an important new study that documents Mexico’s potential to close the “yield gap” among its smaller scale maize farmers. This can improve food security in the country and reduce dependence on expensive imports, which regularly exceed $2.5 billion just for maize and now surpass $20 billion for agricultural goods. The study, which they co-authored with GDAE researcher Elise Garvey, is being presented at a forum in Mexico City launching a new producer-consumer campaign on maize self-sufficiency.

“Mexico’s transition to a new government later this year offers an opportunity to address the country’s maize import dependence,” says GDAE’s Timothy A. Wise. “Now is the time to invest in closing yield gaps and improving resource use among smaller scale farmers. Ambition is needed, backed by public investment.”

Mexico imports one-third of its maize, overwhelmingly from the United States, but three million producers grow most of the country’s maize. The majority of the country’s small and medium-scale maize farmers are operating at less than 50% of potential. Yield gaps – the difference between current yields and attainable yields using available technology – are estimated at 43% on rain-fed land, compared to just 10% on the country’s larger irrigated farms. To what extent could Mexico close this yield gap, using proven technologies widely employed in the country, to regain its lost self-sufficiency in maize?

The study, which is part of GDAE’s ongoing work on policies to address the food crisis, finds that:

  • Within 10-15 years Mexico could increase annual production on current lands from 23 to 33 million tons, meeting the current annual deficit of 10 million tons.
  • Irrigation and infrastructure projects in the southern part of the country could add another 24 million mt/year. This would be more than enough to meet Mexico’s growing demand for maize, estimated to reach 39 million mt/year by 2025.
  • Such investments in new water resources, combined with public investments in more efficient water-use in irrigation systems in the semi-arid northern parts of Mexico, are urgently needed as climate change threatens to make water more scarce, undermining agricultural production.
  • Mexico’s current push to expand the use of transgenic maize is unnecessary and ill-considered. Its yield potential is limited, particularly for smaller scale producers, and its risks are high for a country with Mexico’s rich diversity of native maize varieties.
  • Mexico’s highly touted MasAgro Program, with its focus on smallholders and resource conservation, has laudable goals, but the program has too small a budget and focuses on strategies – improved seeds and “no till” practices – that are poorly suited to many small-scale farms and marginal lands.
  • A pilot program in farmer-led extension services has proven the most promising, raising yields 55-70% in a project carried out in several states by a national farmer organization. The project promoted precision application of inputs on both high-quality and marginal lands, improving conservation without relying on new hybrids nor transgenic seeds.
  • Such programs build on Mexico’s rich maize diversity, an asset that will become increasingly valuable as climate change challenges existing growing conditions.

Such findings are consistent with the prevailing international consensus around the “sustainable intensification” of small-scale production. Public investment should go where the yield gaps are the greatest, among small-to-medium-scale farmers. This is also where private investment is scarce and where market failures are prevalent.

Download “Achieving Mexico’s Maize Potential
(also available in Spanish from the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute)
Download the Executive Summary

See GDAE’s other work on Mexican Agriculture under NAFTA
See GDAE’s work on Revaluing Smallholder Agriculture
See GDAE’s work on the Global Food Crisis
Read more from GDAE’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program

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