There are certain parallels with the situation today in Mexico,
the birthplace of maize, which is at the centre of the global fight
to protect the crop's diversity from the onslaught of genetically
modified varieties. "It's the first time in history that one of the
most important harvests in the world is threatened in its centre of
diversity," Pat Mooney, the head of the Action Group on Erosion,
Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), an international NGO, told
"If we let the companies win, there will be no chance to defend them in other parts. What is happening here is of key importance for the rest of the world."
Civil society organisations are raising their guard against the possibility that the government of conservative President Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) may approve commercial cultivation of transgenic maize, a move widely condemned by environmentalists and other activists, academics, and small and medium producers due to the risks it poses.
In September, the U.S. corporations Monsanto, Pioneer and Dow Agrosciences presented six applications for commercial plantations of transgenic maize on more than two million hectares in the northwestern state of Sinaloa and the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Moreover, in January these companies and Syngenta presented 11 applications for pilot and experimental plots to grow transgenic corn on 622 hectares in the northern states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango, Sinaloa and Baja California. And Monsanto has applied for an additional plantation in an unspecified area in the north of the country.
Since 2009, the Mexican government has issued 177 permits for experimental plots of transgenic maize covering an area of 2,664 hectares, according to the latest figures provided by the authorities.
But large-scale commercial release of GM maize has not yet been authorised.
"They are going to serve up transgenic maize on every table in spite of the fact that food sovereignty depends on growing native corn," said Evangelina Robles, a member of Red en Defensa del Maiz (Maize Defence Network) which campaigns against GM corn. "As a result, we have to demand its prohibition by the state," she told IPS.
Mexico produces 22 million tonnes of maize a year, and imports 10 million tonnes, according to the agriculture ministry. The country purchased about two million tonnes of GM maize from South Africa over the last two years, and is set to import another 150,000 tonnes.
Three million maize farmers cultivate about eight million hectares in Mexico, two million of which are devoted to family farming. White maize is the main crop for human consumption, while yellow maize, for animal feed, is largely imported.
The National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy (CONEVAL) estimates the country's annual consumption of maize at 123 kg per person, compared to a world average of 16.8 kg.
The historical link with pre-Columbian indigenous cultures gives maize a strong symbolic and cultural significance throughout Mesoamerica, the area comprising southern Mexico and Central America, where it was domesticated, producing 59 landraces or native strains and 209 varieties.
In the state of Mexico, adjacent to the capital city's Federal District, small farmers have found their native maize to be
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