, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 1771-1795

Traditional Maize Storage Methods of Mayan Farmers in Yucatan, Mexico: Implications for Seed Selection and Crop Diversity

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Abstract

For small-scale farmers who maintain genetically diverse crop populations, aspects of the storage of their seeds and harvest may be just as important for successful farming as those related to productivity. The community of Yaxcaba, Yucatan, Mexico was studied to understand how the conditions under which Maya farmers store their maize harvests influence their seed selection practices and the diversity of maize varieties grown. Most farmers select their maize seed based primarily on ear characteristics and secondarily on grain characters. Farmers incorporate storability concerns by selecting for an archetypal healthy ear and by conducting selection in several steps between harvest and planting of the subsequent crop generation. Most farmers store their maize harvest in the husk, initially in the field and then in rustic granaries constructed of logs and palm thatch, in which farmers conserve separately their different seed lots. All local landrace populations show morphological adaptation (principally husk characteristics) for local storage conditions, indicating that storability has been an important selection pressure on traditional maize. Storability also appears to be a key factor working against the straightforward adoption of improved maize seed in Yaxcaba. Local farmers value many qualities of improved maize varieties, but their principal complaint is that improved maize cannot be conserved reliably under local storage conditions. Nearly all farmers who utilize improved seed stock in Yaxcaba grow locally adapted or ‘creolized’ versions of improved varieties, displaying characteristics of local maize landraces that facilitate their storage.