Maize diversity, poverty, and market access: lessons from Mexico

Crop genetic diversity and poverty are linked: first, resource-poor farmers often maintain genetic diversity; and second, crop diversity, when properly valued by the market, has the potential to alleviate poverty. This article examines this supposition based on three case studies of the intersection of the market with poverty and maize diversity in Mexico. These cases suggest that the bulk market for maize offers little room for maize landraces (local maize varieties known as criollo maize), in that it does not reward qualitative variation in maize grain, and instead presents incentives that make planting ‘improved’ maize germplasm the rational economic choice for small-scale farmers. Meanwhile, attempts to add value to maize landraces via market differentiation have had varying success. Although there is potential for differentiated markets to contribute to successful business models and poverty alleviation, these cases exhibit tradeoffs between product consistency, investment of labour and resources, and genetic diversity conservation.