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I. Background

Both the history and the development of Guatemala are intimately linked to maize (Zea mays L.), not only as a specific crop, but also as a whole system which includes historical, linguistic, economic, social and even political components. In view of this, a number of studies have been undertaken with particular focus on aspects ranging from the technologies used in maize farming to the religious significance of maize in the daily lives of the rural populations.

The study on "El cultivo del maíz en Huehuetenango - un estudio exploratorio" (Maize farming in Huehuetenango - an exploratory study) carried out in 1993 under the auspices of FAO, constituted the first stage of the research undertaken. Enquiries were made in 31 municipalities of the Department of Huehuetenango, in each of which 8 to 15 cases were studied, producing a total of 385 cases. However, the data on the role of women in the conservation of the genetic resources of maize suggested that further study would be necessary.

It is known that women participate in various tasks related to the farming of maize; however there is not enough information on how women influence the conservation of its genetic resources. A study aimed at acquiring greater knowledge of this subject, not only as a source of basic information, is also a necessary element for the development of policies in which the fundamental role women play in practical terms for the conservation of plant genetic resources is recognised.

The second stage of the field study was carried out in six communities of the Department of Huehuetenango, chosen on the basis of the characteristics of their ecology, ethnic composition and local farming techniques. The communities selected for the study are in the municipalities of Aguacatán, Chiantla, Todos Santos, Cuchumatán, Nentón and Jacaltenango.

For this second phase of the study, a methodology was adopted that would allow both women and men to be involved in a more active and participatory way. The interviews and mini-workshops that took place were aimed at seeking information related to the origin of maize, on the classification and uses the farmers themselves make of their local maize (landraces), the customs and rites still being practised, the process of introducing improved varieties, the maize production cycle and the role of women especially in the selection of seed-grain and post-harvest tasks as predominant elements in the conservation of the genetic resources of maize.

At the end of this information-gathering phase, a "general workshop" was held in which, together with representatives of 12 communities, governmental organizations and NGOs, the results of the community consultation process were discussed and evaluated. Guidelines for action were proposed as a conclusion.

The information and conclusions presented in this study are the fruit of the two consultation exercises carried out in different Huehuetenango communities and of a thorough review of secondary sources on the subject.

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