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II. Introduction

Guatemala is located in an area which contains one of the highest levels of plant genetic diversity in the world. Its particular geography and types of vegetation are characterised by the fact that the country has 14 life zones. In addition, the Maya population which inhabited Guatemala before the European conquest developed one of the world's most advanced culture. The existing human wealth-botanical wealth interaction makes this country an ideal place to study genetic diversity and the evolution of crops, such as maize, but also other crops like beans, cocoa, cotton, chilli peppers, squashes, achote (Bixa orellana), manioc and sweet potatoes.

Many studies have focused on the modifications plant materials have undergone in their evolution; however little has been done in the study of the predominant role of human culture in achieving these modifications, basically through the domestication of plant resources. Many studies on the origin and evolution of crops pay insufficient attention to the action of society, and are even less concerned with the action of women within society.

Although women have been closely linked to the process of the domestication of plants, there is little documentation on the role they have played in the conservation of plant genetic resources. This is why a greater understanding of the subject is necessary, as an input in the discussion on biodiversity and the contribution the indigenous populations of Central America, and women in particular, have made in agriculture. It is the aim of this study to identify the role played by women in the conservation of the genetic resources of maize crops (Zea mays L.) in the Department of Huehuetenango.

In this work, it is assumed that the aims of social development are to enhance the value of rural areas, farming and the men and women involved in it. This is linked to the premise of not separating social dynamics from the dynamics of nature.

Another central issue here is the reassessment of the role of women in the rural world. Their roles within the family as processors of food, as managers of the home economy, as linguistic and cultural models for their children and as craftswomen who generate income for the family are traditionally not recognised as a contribution to social and economic development; furthermore, in almost all societies, the function of women as agents of social and economic exchange, and as guardians of local wisdom, is generally ignored. This raises the issue of the different ways in which, generally speaking, the role of women in society is underestimated: invisibility (they, or their work, are not considered important, or are not visible), stereotypes (the role of women is associated with submission, resignation, self-denial, etc.), their work and responsibilities are under-valued (their work is seen as a complement or help to the family economy), prejudices (lack of skills, lack of leadership, etc.), and lack of equality.

Although women take part in various farming activities, their main role in the selection of the types of maize (species and sub-species) present in the different regions illustrates the importance of their work in the conservation of the genetic resources of maize.

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