MEXICO CITY – The original popcorn, made from the first kinds of maize whose kernels puffed up when put to the fire, originated in Mexico and is in danger of extinction, something entrepreneur Rafael Mier is fighting to prevent with an agricultural project based on a heritage seed bank.
Of the eight types of maize from which popcorn is made, only 514.9 hectares (1,271 acres) of crops remain on their native soil in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, according to the Agriculture, Stockraising, Rural Development, Fishing and Food Secretariat, or Sagarpa
Mier, a conservationist of maize native to Mexico, several months ago came up with the idea of preserving Tolucan maize, one of the eight kinds that are almost gone.
“My interest is that we begin to sow this maize, to begin to see which seeds are still viable, to make sure our genetic diversity isn’t stored in a refrigerator,” he said. Less than two hectares (4 acres) cultivated by Mier near Valle de Bravo, at an altitude of some 2,400 meters (7,700 feet) in the mountains and 136 kilometers (85 miles) west of Mexico City, could be the last vestige of Tolucan popcorn maize.
Originally from the uplands of Toluca, capital of Mexico state, this maize is found at more than 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level.
“I started looking for seeds in the towns of Calimaya and Temoaya, the Atlacomulco area, in the Toluca Valley itself, but I had no luck,” he said.
Mier went market to market and house to house, and was told by residents that their grandparents sowed that maize but nobody grows it anymore.
He then went to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, or CIMMYT, located in Texcoco and which has an important collection of maize seeds.
Thanks to Dr. Denise Costich he had access to the maize collection and sowed some on his ranch.
CIMMYT keeps approximately 5 kilos (11 lbs.) of maize of each variety, of which 3 kilos (6˝ pounds) are preserved long term and 2 kilos (4˝ pounds) are available for experiments.
The availability of seeds in banks is limited. “With 2 kilos (4˝ lbs.) you can’t sow even a quarter of a hectare (2/3 of an acre),” Mier said
Mier’s interest is that the popcorn maize is again available for consumption and that people have an idea of how it was to have the real thing.