CIMMYT’s game-changing partnership with Mexican smallholder farmers
January 28, 2019
This article appeared first in May 2018 on the website of the Global Harvest Initiative, the previous host institution for the GAP Report.
Smallholder Mexican maize farmers face many challenges to increasing their output and becoming profitable.
Many lack training and financial resources to purchase and use the improved seeds and mechanization that could boost their productivity and resilience, especially during drought and dry conditions. They also lack training in new conservation agriculture practices that conserve soil, water and other natural resources.
An innovative long-term partnership between farmers, agricultural research centers, national and local governments and the private-sector is helping farmers tap into their potential.
Ten years ago, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and private-sector Asgrow Seed Company launched a pilot project to create research and capacity-building innovation networks for sustainable rural development in Mexico.
The two-year project laid the foundation for a network of research and innovation centers which has expanded to 12 agricultural regions of Mexico thanks to a collaboration between CIMMYT and Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA).
The result is a long-term sustainable intensification strategy called MasAgro that today is changing the lives of more than 300,000 farmers, as well as providing a global model for sustainable maize innovation.
The CIMMYT – Asgrow collaboration project set up research platforms in three of the five field stations that CIMMYT operates in Mexico. The field trials were designed to measure yield differences between maize grown under sustainable and traditional farming systems. In particular, the trials compared the effect that conservation agriculture and conventional tillage had on the performance of four maize hybrids provided by Asgrow.
Farmer participation builds success
In addition to performing tests in the highly controlled environment of CIMMYT’s research platforms, the project invited local farmers to participate in the comparative trials.
Over the two-year project, there were 30 platform satellites or modules established by participant farmers who took the risk and put conservation agriculture to the test in a fraction of their land. They received advice from a team of Asgrow technicians who, in turn, were trained by CIMMYT experts in conservation and precision agriculture.
“We offered advice to innovative farmers on the use of new seeds, sowing equipment, grass control and conservation agriculture adoption”, said Francisco López Olguín, field technician of CIMMYT’s Sustainable Intensification Program in the High Valleys Hub. These farmers were the early adopters of the sustainable farming practices that more than 300.000 farmers have now adopted to increase their productivity, reduce costs and protect the environment on more than 1.3 million hectares across Mexico.
Data gathered in 2017 show that the productivity and income of participant farmers growing maize under rain-fed conditions was 92 and 105 percent higher, respectively, than average yields and income achieved by other farmers in Mexico. On average, rain-fed plots managed with MasAgro’s sustainable intensification practices yielded 25 percent more grain and revenue to maize farmers than plots managed with conventional practices on the same farm.
Training the trainers works
The CIMMYT – Asgrow partnership also spearheaded CIMMYT’s most successful one-year training in Sustainable Farming for field technicians.
Since 2010, when the first technicians achieved their certification, CIMMYT has graduated 354 technicians from public and private organizations who closely monitor hundreds of demonstration modules that farmers set up in MasAgro’s hubs to test, improve and promote sustainable farming.
“The first CIMMYT – Asgrow demonstration modules were so successful that soon enough we were receiving requests from dozens of farmers who wanted to compare management practices in their own plots of land”, said Bram Govaerts, CIMMYT’s Regional Representative for the Americas. By 2017, MasAgro technicians were monitoring 921 demonstration modules scattered over 30 states of Mexico.
The modest project that CIMMYT began with this Monsanto-owned seed company has evolved today into a strategy that generates the most successful public – private partnerships for sustainable intensification CIMMYT has developed in recent years.
The private sector has a key role to play in fostering innovation for the benefit of smallholder farmers. “The CIMMYT – Asgrow project was one of those game-changing experiences,” said Govaerts.