ProMaíz Nativo was set up by scientists and farmer cooperatives and officially launched in Mexico City this summer.
In addition to farmers and cooperatives, its members include agroecology experts, food and nutrition scientists, marketing specialists and economists.
Martha Willcox, landrace improvement coordinator at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), said the founding of
the association was "truly novel" in the history of native maize in Mexico.
Member farmers can use the organization’s trademarked logo, Milpaiz, developed to promote the use of native corn in specialized market niches, increase the variety of products derived from native corn, and add value to the crop.
The logo gives consumers the guarantee the corn they are buying is native to the farmers’ community, has been derived from continuous seed selection and was grown by smallholder farmers, said Milpaiz.
'A wide variety of colors, textures, sizes and flavors'
There are around 60 varieties of Mexican corn. According to Milpaiz, the plant we know today as corn is the result of thousands of years of selective breeding and originally derived from a wild plant called teocintle.
“This selection by countless generations of farmers throughout Mexico has not only given corn to the world but has created a wide variety of colors, textures, sizes, and flavors of corn,” said the organization.
Native Mexican varieties of corn, known as criollo, are adapted to the country’s climate and yield crops in poor soil and with little rain, making farmers more resilient to climate change.
They are also important for the country’s biodiversity; Mexico is one of 17 countries in the world considered to be ‘megadiverse’ and is the fourth most biodiverse country globally.
'Truly landrace maize'
“Mexico is the center of origin of maize, and home to much of its genetic diversity,” said Flavio Aragón, a genetic resources researcher with Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry, Agriculture, and Livestock Research (INIFAP). “This initiative will allow us to certify that products are truly landrace maize from smallholder farmers so that the benefits reach the smallholder farmers that have provided us with this biodiversity.”
The Milpaiz logo can also be used for all crops grown in the traditional milpa farming system, which makes use of intercropping, such as beans, squash, edible greens, amaranth, and other vegetables.
Food chemist at UNAM and president of ProMaíz Nativo, Amanda Galvez, said the trademark would make it easier for smallholder farmers to sell their products in supermarkets and earn additional income.
The Milpaiz logo is only added to smallholder farmers’ surplus crop after they have fed their families - meaning the program does not compromise food security - and guarantees the farmers a fair price for the maize.
According to CIMMYT, these many farmers plant the same corn varieties grown by their ancestors, making them "the guardians of these native varieties", unlike commercial farmers who buy the heirloom seeds.
Finding a market
ProMaíz Nativo is betting on the high-end food service and gastronomy sector to grow demand for these native, sustainably grown varieties and officially launched the organization at ExpoRestaurantes in Mexico City earlier this summer.
However, according to ingredient supplier Kerry, Latin American consumers are also looking for “authentic, native and natural” ingredients in processed food.
In order to make its flavor trend predictions, Kerry scanned the market for new product launches, interviewed consumers from Mexico, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, and Brazil, tracked the latest gastronomic creations in restaurants and searched social media platforms for food trends.