Government Inaugurates Germoplasm Bank, Research Center for Mexico's Native Corn Varieties

Article excerpt

As the debate on Mexico's policies regarding genetically modified organisms (GMO) rages on, President Felipe Calderon 's administration has taken steps to preserve some of the native species of corn that are said to be threatened by imports of altered corn and from test plots that have been planted with GMO corn. In mid-August, the Secretaria de Agricultura, Ganaderia, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentacion (SAGARPA) inaugurated a germoplasm bank for Mexico's native-corn varieties at the Universidad Autonoma Agraria Antonio Narro (UAAAN) in Coahuila state. Many see the creation of this depository, known as Banco de Germoplasma, as an important step to preserve Mexico's native corn, along with the traditions it represents. But the Calderon administration is seen as inconsistent on this issue, since the government approved several test sites in 2009 to cultivate GMO corn in Mexico (SourceMex, March 25, 2010 article ID 050885). Ironically, Coahuila is one of the northern states where test plots for GMO corn have been approved

Universities, producer groups partners in new center

In a document released along with the official launch of the germoplasm bank, SAGARPA emphasized the importance of corn to Mexico. "Corn is our most important crop and is also the agriculture product that has the most impact on our economy," said SAGARPA. "This is the most important renewable resource for Mexico."

SAGARPA also reiterated that the project was a joint effort with producer organizations from around the country, which would have a major role in preserving Mexican corn. "The custody of genetic resources will be in the hands of producers, with the assistance of scientists, researchers, academics, and students at the UAAAN," said SAGARPA. "They will benefit from advances and new data uncovered from the corn that has been deposited at the bank."

Although the effort will be housed physically at the UAAAN, the Banco de Germoplasma is supported by 50 universities and civil organizations throughout Mexico. More than 270 researchers will take part in the project.

"It's the same as depositing your treasure in a bank," said Jose Luis Herrera Ayala, director of Banco de Germoplasma. "An institution like this one guarantees that we can safeguard the genetic base of our foodstuffs, both in the field as well as within the walls of this building."

SAGARPA said creating the center is part of a master plan unveiled in 2008 to develop a wider system (Sistema Nacional de Recursos Geneticos, SINARGEN) to preserve genetic resources for a wide range of species in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, marine life, and microbes.

The facility will have a storage area of 435 cubic meters, with a capacity to store 100,000 samples of corn. A second stage of the project involves constructing an interactive museum for corn and a new research center (Centro de Investigacion de Maices Criollos) that will develop corn for the use of producers.

The first producers to make a deposit at the new facility were 200 growers from Puebla state in central Mexico, who entered more than 60 species of corn into the bank.

"I am pleased with this effort to preserve the native corn of our country," said Agriculture Secretary Francisco Mayorga Castaneda during an Aug. 12 ceremony launching the depository.

Some states taking own steps to protect corn

Mexico's largest corn-producers organization, the Confederacion Nacional de Productores Agricolas de Maiz de Mexico (CNPAMM), has been part of the project from the beginning. "Germoplasm banks are an indispensable element of a comprehensive policy to conserve the wealth of Mexican corn varieties," CNPAMM president Efrain Garcia Bello said at the ceremony.

Garcia Bello said corn producers face a diversity of challenges, such as generating more food, creating new products from corn, responding to the threat of climate change and drought, and improving the quality of life in their communities with greater earnings. …