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Mexican farmers effectively cultivate phenotypic diversity in maize

el colour, or flowering period, vary depending on the farmer. At genome scale, genetic markers have shown strong homogeneity between the maize populations within the same village and, more surprisingly, between distant villages. This means that the local varieties possess a common genetic base. The diversity observed in characters of direct pertinence to farmers would consequently be the result of the latter's personal decisions on seed selection, which they make before each crop cycle.

This region's farmers currently grow the maize according to ancestral practices, established over hundreds of years. The fields are sown from one crop cycle to another with the seeds of the ears from the previous harvest. However, from time to time farmers decide to exchange seed batches with other neighbouring farmers, situated more or less geographically distant, in order to run experimental crops from these seeds. Each farmer thus judges the value of these seeds according to their characteristics. Selection criteria are still a highly individual choice and depend on a number of factors. For instance taste, colour, and cooking quality characteristics come into consideration as culinary criteria, leaf characteristics as forage quality criteria.

This investigation has brought the first genetic proof that these cultivation practices, conducted on a small scale (village and region), are a key element in the evolution of maize and its diversity. In-situ conservation of so-called "farm" varieties of crop plants, following the example of maize, could therefore be perceived in terms not of isolation, but of dynamic means of genetic material flow between the different populations of the same region in which the farmers play a predominant role. They thus appear to cultivate maize population diversity. These populations appear as open genetic systems, maintaining the centres of diversity of this major food cereal. The research conducted in this context on the inter-populatio
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Contact: Bndicte Robert
presse@paris.ird.fr
33-1-48-03-75-19
Institut de Recherche Pour le Dveloppement
29-Apr-2004


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