Mexican scientist J. Arahón Hernández Guzmán examines an maize ear on his experimental plot of the Jala landrace. This maize, native to Jala, in the state of Nayarit, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, is famed for producing the world's largest ears. It is valued locally not only for its record-breaking qualities but for use in traditional dishes. However, modern improved varieties yield more and have largely displaced landraces, especially for sale.

Because they are often grown close together, the Jala maize has outcrossed with improved varieties, meaning that its height, ear length, ear thickness, and growing season have all diminished over the last century. In 1907 a visiting scientist recorded ears 60 cm long, whereas in 2007 the longest ear measured 36 cm. Hernández, a research professor at the Colegio de Postgraduados, a Mexican agricultural institution, is working to recover these lost traits.

In 2007, when this photo was taken, Hernández was growing Jala landrace seed collected from 22 farmers to recombine the genetic variation. The seed was to be redistributed to interested farmers, safeguarded in CIMMYT’s germplasm bank, and re-sown next year to begin selection for longer ears. He was also growing out Jala landrace samples from CIMMYT’s bank for selection and combination with current landrace materials. In addition to recovery and conservation, Hernández aims to develop varieties with added value; for example, dual-purpose maize providing good grain and husk yields, as well as specialized varieties for green ears or pozole. 

Maize is an essential part of Jala's culture, and each year the town enjoys a two-week Feria del Elote, or maize ear festival. Hernández helps to organize an annual competition for the longest maize ear, established as part of the festival in 1981, in order to celebrate Jala's unique maize and to encourage farmers to keep growing it. “As a genetic resource, it’s unique in the world,” says Hernández. “Not only that: if we lose this maize we lose our traditions, culture, and identity.”

Photo credit: Eloise Phipps/CIMMYT.

For more about Jala maize, see CIMMYT's August 2007 e-news story "Pride and pragmatism sustain a giant Mexican maize," available online at:

¿Qué es la reconversión de cultivos?

Esta actividad tiene cobertura en 30 estados de la República excepto Baja California Sur y la Ciudad de México. Se conoce como reconversión de cultivos al cambio de producto o actividad que representa mayor rentabilidad económica y viabilidad social para…
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