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Traditional agricultural and food systems preserve biodiversity and improve nutrition in Mexico 2024 - drweud
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Traditional agricultural and food systems preserve biodiversity and improve nutrition in Mexico

Traditional agricultural and food systems preserve biodiversity and improve nutrition in Mexico

Organizational surveys


Reviving ancestral practices in the field of food and agricultural production and marketing

Mexico has a long history of resilient agricultural systems and food cultures that reflect the country’s agricultural biodiversity. FAO and the Mexican Commission for Knowledge on Biodiversity and Its Uses, with funding from the Global Environment Facility, are reviving traditional practices to support the resilience of farmers’ livelihoods and meet the food needs of the population. © Secretaría de Desarrollo Sustentable, Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán n

05/22/2024

As you walk through the fields of Mexico’s hills and plateaus, you’ll see corn plants spaced far apart, purple bean plants tangled around their stalks, and large squash leaves and a few edible herbs covering the ground below. These plants are all components of the agricultural system known as Milpa. Here, unlike monoculture, each family grows a variety of nutritious crops.

The milpa fields are home to the delicious tortilla, a thin cornmeal pancake cooked over a wood fire and served with beans, just like our Mexican ancestors prepared decades ago. Melba dishes are a far cry from the ultra-processed canned foods that are becoming increasingly popular in many regions.

These ancient and resilient agricultural and food systems, whose origins date back to the pre-Hispanic era, and the food cultures associated with them, play a crucial role in Mexico’s agricultural biodiversity. In fact, the term biodiversity itself might come from a reference to this country, given the bright purple, orange and yellow colors of the dozens of types of corn that grow there. The same applies to many other cultures.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is working with the Global Environment Facility and the National Biodiversity Knowledge Commission and its Uses, a local research institute, to help revive traditional agricultural practices and to fill farmers’ fields and consumers’ plates. with these local foods rich in biodiversity.

In terms of human nutrition, the objective is to contribute to solving some of the problems linked to overweight, obesity and non-communicable diseases, which are on the rise in Mexico, as in many other countries, due to the Increased consumption of highly processed foods and lack of diversity in eating habits.

Mexico’s agricultural biodiversity is a rich reservoir of traits that help adapt to specific agroecological conditions, such as resistance to pests, diseases and climate change. However, the continued expansion of intensive and large-scale agricultural production, monoculture practices and the abandonment of traditional agricultural production practices make households and communities more vulnerable to natural and economic shocks, with serious consequences for food security and nutrition.

Thanks to an innovative project aimed at protecting genetic diversity and agroecosystems in Mexico, FAO, the Global Environment Facility and the National Commission for the Knowledge of Biodiversity and its Uses have been able to reverse this trend in certain regions.

Traditional agricultural and food systems preserve biodiversity and improve nutrition in Mexico
Traditional agricultural and food systems preserve biodiversity and improve nutrition in Mexico

The main objective of the joint FAO-GEF project is to revitalize the milpa agricultural system, so that farmers feel appreciated for the products they provide. Right image: © Ivan Lowenberg. Left photo: © Secretaría de Desarrollo Sustentable, Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán

Traditional knowledge preserves agricultural biodiversity

The main objective of the project is to revitalize and give greater visibility to the milpa agricultural system, creating a sense of appreciation for farmers for their products while helping the country’s urban residents realize the value of their work. Milpa agricultural systems, which help farmers diversify their crops, increase productivity and build resilience to climate change, are also designated as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems by FAO in several regions of Latin America.

It was also important to launch 77 family and community seed bank projects aimed at improving the management of agricultural biodiversity at the local and regional levels, in which more than 1,444 farmers participated, creating a network of seed keepers and seed banks. seed exchange between local communities. All of these elements have contributed to conserving 155 globally important species within agroecosystems. Wild relatives of different crop species have played a particularly important role in building resilience.

In five years, some 10,000 Mexican producers have strengthened their capacity to conserve and manage agricultural biodiversity on their farms thanks to the practices and knowledge acquired. These sustainable agricultural practices have also directly affected approximately 5,200 hectares, while indirectly affecting more than a million hectares.

Traditional agricultural and food systems preserve biodiversity and improve nutrition in Mexico

The project also appealed to consumers, tapping into their nostalgia for the tastes of old-fashioned milba cuisine and keeping prices low through direct trading practices and short supply chains. ©Ivan Lowenberg

Improving demand for agricultural products derived from biodiversity

The initiative, like much of FAO’s work, focused on farmers always willing to try and test new species and approaches in new dimensions. However, the project also targets consumers nostalgic for the flavors of ancient Melba cuisine when they meet producers who sell their food in local markets.

The organization conducted market research in six Mexican states to better understand consumer preferences. This was accompanied by marketing campaigns highlighting the origin of products derived from biodiversity, as well as their nutritional, health and environmental benefits. According to market research, the campaigns had an impact on the volume of products sold and their turnover. A virtuous circle is formed by connecting consumers and producers. Farmers apply various production practices to meet consumer demands, and consumers in turn demand product diversification, creating a farmers’ market. This can transform agricultural and food systems and improve the environment and people’s nutrition.

Additionally, by collecting high-quality data on food intake and consumption, the project can also measure the environmental and nutritional impacts of this comprehensive approach to promoting the strengthening of traditional agricultural and food systems.

Building on the success of this initiative in Mexico, the dynamic and interest in promoting agricultural biodiversity at the local level continues in many regions of the country. Meanwhile, FAO’s ongoing work in partnership with the Global Environment Facility and the National Biodiversity Knowledge Commission and its Uses focuses on food systems within the country’s diverse cultural landscape, with this completed project constituting a foundation on which future work can be built.

Links related to the topic

for more information

Website: Food and Agriculture Organization and Global Environment Facility

Website: FAO Country Profiles: Mexico

Publication: A Guidance Note for Strengthening Nutrition Sensitivity in Global Environment Facility Investments and Programming

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