Some of farmers’ biggest problems are high production costs, volatile grain prices, and the lack of a secure market. Several CIMMYT projects are now linking Mexican farmers to food manufacturers, through local traders. Following advice on conservation agriculture (CA), crop nutrition and improved irrigation, farmers save money and water, while rebuilding the soil. Yields are up, and so are farmers’ earnings.
Several related experiences by CIMMYT in 2022 show that by following conservation agriculture (CA), and other ecological practices, grain farmers can lower their production costs, while harvesting more, saving irrigation water, and improving the soil. After several years of piloting this approach, the effort has grown to impact over 70,000 hectares and about 4,000 farmers, who are so pleased with the results that they are strengthening their ties with the food processors, and agreeing to trade more grain in the future.
Ironically, while the world does need more food, individual farmers are often anxious about where they will sell their harvest. So CIMMYT is linking farmers in the states of Sonora, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Querétaro, Sinaloa, and Jalisco to local buyers who give technical assistance to growers, while providing commercial agreements to sell the grain to food manufacturers like Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Bimbo, PepsiCo México, Trimex, Ingredion and Heineken. Farmers also receive training in workshops or during local demonstration events.
Producers from Sinaloa, Mexico, participating in the Support for Responsible Sourcing project in Mexico, promoted by Kellogg’s and CIMMYT. ©Francisco Alarcón / CIMMYT.
Responding to local needs, each CIMMYT project promotes slightly different technologies, but most include soil and water conservation, and environmentally-sound pest control. Farmers receive training and support to adopt conservation agriculture practices such as minimum tillage, crop rotation, and leaving the crop stubble as a soil cover.
Farmers and their advisors find solutions to fit local farming systems. For example, conventional tillage can cost $275 or more per season, while direct seeding (or planting on permanent beds) saves on tractor time and fuel expenses, cutting costs to less than $165.
Soil analysis allows farmers to see how much nitrogen their soil has, and how much it needs, so mineral fertilizers can be applied at the most efficient rate. This saves on fertilizer, and reduces losses of nitrogen into the atmosphere and into the groundwater. For even greater efficiency, some innovative farmers dissolve mineral fertilizer into water, and apply it to their crop as ferti-irrigation, for example through drip systems.
Sometimes, improving irrigation is simply a matter of soil leveling, to distribute water evenly around the field. Irrigation can also be optimized by using precise water flows, and shorter pipes (less than 350 meters). Improved irrigation can save 40% of the water: lowering costs, avoiding waterlogging and preventing lodging (as plants are less likely to fall over when the soil moisture is just right). Farmers who use water-saving techniques can produce a kilo of barley for Heineken with 641 liters of water vs 864 liters for the conventional practices.
Pest control includes sex pheromone traps to attract and kill fall armyworms, avoiding insecticide sprays. CIMMYT projects with Ingredion, Bimbo, PepsiCo Mexico, and Trimex treat seed with beneficial fungi, like Trichoderma, to prevent diseases. Instead of spraying insecticides on a regular basis, farmers first scout for pests, and if needed, apply low-impact insecticides, or less-toxic mineral fungicides if there are diseases. CIMMYT is testing intercropping with various legumes, to improve soil fertility. Intercropped fodder radish shelters beneficial insects like lady bird beetles that prey on pests.
These novel practices translate into lower costs and higher yields. Farmers growing maize for Bimbo reaped 11.1 tons per hectare vs just 6.7 on neighboring farms. Wheat for Nestlé yielded 6.7 tons per hectare, 20% higher than regional averages in official government statistics. Farmers who sold maize to Kellogg’s were able to stabilize their yields, and increase their profitability by at least 20%.
“The arrangements vary with each project and each firm. In collaboration with CIMMYT, these firms support farmers in their transition towards more sustainable practices, and while some offer financing to farmers to achieve this, they all provide training and technical support through CIMMYT. In 2022 alone, the companies bought more than 100,000 tons of maize and more than 55,000 tons of wheat from farmers in Mexico who often struggle to find a place to sell it. The farmers save money, preserve the value of their land, improve their incomes and minimize their risks, while the firms have a secure and local source of high-quality cereals. So everybody wins,” says Louis García, who coordinates responsible sourcing actions at CIMMYT.
José Guadalupe Flores, national hub coordinator, adds, “And because this is CIMMYT, we always include research in our work. We are gathering data on fertilizer and water use, soil preparation and pest control, along with yields, costs and benefits, so that our projects can be a model of conservation and improved livelihoods, on a global scale.”
Producers from Guanajuato, Mexico, at a training event organized by the CIMMYT Bajío Hub. ©Francisco Alarcón / CIMMYT.
Soil under conservation agriculture practices in Texcoco, State of Mexico, Mexico. ©Francisco Alarcón / CIMMYT.
Following advice on conservation agriculture (CA), crop nutrition and improved irrigation, farmers save money and water, while rebuilding the soil.
Responding to local needs, each cimmyt project promotes slightly different technologies, but most include soil and water conservation, and environmentally-sound pest control.
CIMMYT is testing intercropping with various legumes, to improve soil fertility. intercropped fodder radish shelters beneficial insects like lady bird beetles that prey on pests.