Making Purple Corn a Seed of Prosperity for Peruvian Farmers

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October 13, 2022, Mexico: In Mexico, there is an indigenous poem that says, “We are kernels of corn from the same ear; we are a root of the same path. It is therefore not surprising that the journey of Alicia Medina Hoyos, researcher of the National Maize Research Program of the Instituto Nacional de Innovación Agraria (INIA), began in a rural community of Cupisnique, Cajamarca, Peru, at 1800 meters above sea level. sea ​​level.

From an early age, she realized the importance of corn as an identity feature. This prompted her to dedicate her life to contributing to food security through research on starchy corn, types of soft corn used for human consumption with 80% starch in their composition.

Medina studied agronomy at the National University of Cajamarca, where her thesis brought her into contact with Luis Narro, a Peruvian researcher linked to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with which she is associated from.

“This ongoing contact has been essential in building my abilities to actively participate in co-creating better opportunities for growers in Peru and Latin America,” Medina said. Her connection to CIMMYT has helped her foster an enriching exchange of knowledge and experience with researchers like native maize specialist Terry Molnar, as well as with the more than 130 colleagues who make up the Latin American Maize Network. .

It also provided opportunities to showcase Peruvian agricultural research. In 2022, Peru hosted the XXIV Latin American Maize Meeting, an event jointly organized by CIMMYT and INIA every two years. Medina explained, “The event is a great opportunity to show Cajamarca, the producers, the organizations, to showcase the best we have and to promote purple corn.

Award-winning research

On International Women’s Day in 2019, Medina received an award from the College of Engineers of Peru for the effort, dedicated work and contribution of engineering to the service of society.

When asked what it meant to receive this award, Medina said, “Research on starchy maize and, in recent years, purple maize, has taken me to Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and in Japan, and gave me the satisfaction of receiving awards that motivate me to continue putting research at the service of producers.

This without losing sight of the other valuable awards that Medina has received: the Bicentenary Personage, awarded in 2021 by the Provincial Municipality of Contumazá, Peru; the compass Chile gave her in 2021 as a recipient of the Strait of Magellan Prize for Innovation and Exploration with Global Impact; and the SUMMUM Research Prize awarded by the Summum Prizes Advisory Committee in 2019.

Why is purple corn so important?

Purple corn comes from a breed called kulli. The team of researchers led by Medina – who obtained the variety – brought a population of purple corn from Huaraz, Peru, and crossed it with one from Cajamarca. Ten years of selection have given rise to INIA 601 maize, characterized by its high yield and high content of anthocyanins and antioxidants beneficial to health, cancer prevention and the reduction of high blood pressure and cholesterol.

“In 2011, I had the opportunity to go to Japan and then work with a team of Japanese experts in Cajamarca,” explained Medina. “There, we started a project that gave more importance to purple maize, not for its production but for its color and therefore its anthocyanin content. We saw the color feature in the envelope. In 2013 we determined the amount of anthocyanins in this variety and it turned out that it was higher in the husk than in the cob. This gave us the ability to market both parts.

Medina explains how teamwork with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) laid the groundwork so that today, 500 Peruvian producers “who see that there are benefits, are convinced, by listening to their testimonies, in dissemination and training events” grow corn in 12 of the 13 provinces that make up Cajamarca and market a kilo of cob and bract of purple corn at 5 USD each.

There is currently a high demand for the product in the form of cereals, cereal flour, dried whole, dried, chopped and chopped forms; Lima-based transnational corporations acquire purple corn to extract the pigment and anthocyanin, and export it to the United States, Japan and Spain. “In fact, there are companies that produce whiskey with purple corn flour from Cajamarca,” Medina added.

In October 2021, a new agricultural campaign begins in Peruvian fields and Medina continues to promote agriculture based on the dream of seeing purple corn become a flagship product of the country, while becoming the engine of agribusiness in the region. of Cajamarca, so that producers benefit in a better way, have more income and see the true magnitude of the grain they grow every day.

Also Read: Indian Farmers Use Less Agrochemicals Data Show for FY 2021-22

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