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VII. Introduction of improved varieties

1945 marks the beginning of the so-called "Green Revolution", with the creation of the first dwarfed wheat variety, followed by other attempts with barley, maize and other crops. With the introduction of "high-yield varieties" there was an increase in world food production. Let us consider the cases of maize, rice and wheat. In Asia, in 1961 the annual production of maize was 1.2 tonnes per hectare, by 1991 the production reached about 3.2 t/ha; as regards rice, in 1961 the annual production was 1.75 t/ha, in 1991 it approached 3.6 t/ha; for wheat, the 1961 production was 0.6 t/ha and by 1991 it reached 3.2 t/ha.

However, it is important to clarify that the genetic materials known as high-yield do not always have high yields or high returns to the small farmer. They have the genetic potential to increase grain production under conditions of high nutrient and water inputs. For this reason, they could rather be called "high-response varieties", since there is a change in the production of the biomass of plant reproductive parts (increase in harvest indexes) without basically changing the total quantity of biomass produced. As a result, there was a need to increase the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and intensive irrigation systems with impacts on the ecological environment, such as changes in soil fertility, toxicity and the salinization of soils, desertification and other problems in the use and management of water resources, as well as genetic erosion.

This genetic erosion also entails changes in traditional agricultural production systems in the following ways:

  1. improved varieties need to be grown as monocultures, which does not fit in with the logic of traditional milpa farming systems. The traditional milpa is based on growing different crops in a single area (maize, beans, pumpkins, miltomate, hierba mora, bledo, chilli). The introduction of the new "high yield" varieties results in the modification of food production systems, the availability of food produce and labour in the agricultural sector. Women are particularly affected by losing access to these other resources in the milpa;
  2. improved varieties have reduced genetic base compared with the high variability present in the genetic materials farmed traditionally. This increases the household's exposure to risk from environmental events and changes;
  3. improved varieties displace the genetic materials developed by farmers over thousands of years. Eighty of the ninety countries participating in the World Meeting on Genetic Resources held in Leipzig in 1996 reported that the above factor was the main cause of genetic erosion21 .

The results obtained by consulting the local communities indicate that there was no massive adoption in the region of Huehuetenango of the improved varieties created by the ICTA, except in the area of Aguacatán, where some men and women farmers reported that they used them. According to the study, the percentage of families using them are 8% in the western zone, 5% in the east and 5% in the remaining areas. For the identification of the indigenous varieties of maize currently present in Huehuetenango as landraces and sub-landraces it is advisable to examine the harvest to confirm their diversity.

The predominant type of agriculture in the area is subsistence farming based on traditional techniques with maize as the main crop in association with other species. A notable exception is the area around Aguacatán where garlic and onions have replaced maize. Other similar cases are found in Tzunul, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, where there is an increase in dwarf palm farming.

The types of seeds are indicative of the types of agriculture. In communities like Aguacatán, where there is a change in the crop patterns, the use of improved varieties of maize are reported, whereas, in communities with traditional farming techniques, the use of indigenous seed is maintained.

Changes of seed also bring changes in the rites and customs associated with maize farming. The tendency observed is a loss of rituals and traditional eating habits. A unique exception is found in the communities of the lower and upper reaches of the Río San Juán in Aguacatán who reported that they still practise certain rites, but that there is a tendency towards extinction.

21 Conference Report. FAO, 1997

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