The Maize War and GM Seeds

by Diana Pastor

For many years, maize has been the main food of the indigenous peoples in North and Central America. Its origin is very old: the first records of using ears of corn date back to over 7000 years ago, and thanks to the work and care of our ancestors the crop was transformed into the corn that we know today. In Guatemala, maize has not only been important for its nutritional value, but because all parts of the plant have uses: the cobs, the covers, the leaves and the canes. Additionally, maize is a plant that grows rapidly and can be cultivated in a wide variety of different climates: warm, moderate, humid, dry or cold.

But the value of maíz goes far beyond these more practical uses. It also has a wonderful cultural value. For example, there are 4 basic varieties of colours: white, yellow, red and black / blue corn. Each of these colours of corn represents the four cardinal points, the four elements of earth, and the four energies of man. According to Pop Vuh, the sacred book of the Mayas, the Creator of Life, Heart of Heaven and the Earth, made ??several attempts to create man, all of which were imperfect, until he created the hombre de maíz (the man of corn) and that was when he was finally satisfied with his work.

I remember my grandfather had an arrangement of corns of different colours that hung from the ceilings of his old house,. It was a beautiful ornament. My grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me that it was a sin not to pick a grain of corn because it was sacred.

However, this whole conception of the value of corn has had to wage a difficult struggle in recent years against the invasion of transgenic (GM) seeds. Over the past few years, advertising for GM seeds has grown substantially and even the government has been sponsoring their distribution. If a farmer loses his crop in a drought -for example – the Government will give the farmer improved, resistant seeds so that they can quickly retrieve their lost harvest. What they do not tell these farmers is that, over time, these seeds can alter not only their health but also their incomes, as they place their users at the mercy of the big agribusinesses that control the selling and distribution of the seeds.

Although the battle is a hard one, there are still many people who hold a deep respect for this wonderful grain. Or, at the very least, many people who have a habit of consuming it. Who does not eat corn tortillas at least once a day in Guatemala? Perhaps even the most corrupt politicians, the most heinous criminals, or some of the most powerful oligarchs in the country, would miss the smell of freshly made corn tortillas that accompany their daily meals.


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