MEXICO CITY – The effects of climate change on crops in Mexico means that the country’s scientists must genetically improve corn – a staple of the Mexican diet – to make it more resistant to increasingly aggressive weather phenomena.
Providing this assessment to EFE was the director of strategic innovation with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Bram Govaerts, adding that Mexico and India will be the nations most affected by climate change in the coming decades and will lose up to 20 percent of their crops.
Meanwhile, Terry Molnar, a CIMMYT expert on native corn species, told EFE that the center is focused on creating different methods for improving corn strains that are resilient to the adverse effects of climate change, but also to various fungi.
Phyllachora maydis, Monographella maydis and Coniothyrium phyllachorae are the main fungi that attack the leaves of the corn stalks, extracting the sugars from the plant and, often, killing the harvests.
Climate change is also resulting in greater numbers of insects like weevils, as well as bacteria and other diseases that damage corn.
“They are showing up in ecosystems where they were not present before,” he said, adding that normally they had occurred in southeastern Mexico but in recent years their presence has been registered in northern states such as Sonora and Sinaloa.
Thus, researchers are continuing with their work to create improved varieties of corn that can resist these threats.
But, besides genetic improvements, it is necessary to implement a system of sustainable agriculture, Govaerts said.
“On the world level, work is not progressing as it should on these issues, but great efforts are being made, as in the case of Mexico,” he added.
In addition, he said that “climate change will not be contained with political declarations,” since it requires “the proper course and working in concert with producers in the field.”
He said that on the global level, 24 billion tons of fertile soil is being lost each year due to the massive agricultural system that overexploits the land.
“Man’s view of the current agricultural systems must change,” and “the proper tools” – ranging from training to economic resources – must be provided to peasants and small farmers so that they practice sustainable agriculture.
One example of bad management in the agricultural sphere is in the southern state of Chiapas, which loses about 40 percent of its crops during the post-harvest phase.
The CIMMYT expert said that feeding the population is essential, since without proper nutrition it is impossible to think about fulfilling the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
“An empty stomach prevents compliance with educational, health and environmental objectives,” he said.
Since 2014, the number of undernourished people worldwide has increased by 821 million, Govaerts said, adding that “there’s not a single country in the world where 50 percent of the diet comes from products originating on its territory.”
This, he said, makes it “necessary to push for an efficient and sustainable sector.”
CIMMYT, located in the city of Texcoco, some 30 km (18 mi.) from Mexico City, has a genetic resources center with 28,000 seeds of corn and 150,000 of wheat.