MasAgro: CIMMYT and Mexico's partnership for sustainable maize production

Published: 21 September 2018
Last edited: 11 November 2022
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The CIMMYT-led project MasAgro develops farmers’ ability to adopt the product of research on maize conservation and improvement, agronomy, machinery, ICTs and postharvest solutions. MasAgro has developed 49 improved maize varieties adapted to small scale farming in Mexico. Farmers and breeders collaborate to improve native maize yield potential and its resistance to diseases. Improved seeds and conservation agriculture have helped farmers increase yields and keep them above the national average. Participating farmers achieved, on average, a 25% increase in both yields and annual revenue. More than 30 local seed companies sold 1.1 million bags of improved seed in 2017, a combined market share of 21%. For every dollar invested participating farmers make $7. This strategy can be replicated in trainings, participatory maize improvement, or more ambitious breeding and capacity building projects.


Central America
North America
Scale of implementation
Access and benefit sharing
Food security
Local actors
Science and research
Sustainable livelihoods
Traditional knowledge
Erratic rainfall
Extreme heat
Increasing temperatures
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Shift of seasons
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 1 – No poverty
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduced inequalities
SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 7: Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry
Target 13: Safeguarding genetic diversity
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 16: Access to and sharing benefits from genetic resources
Target 17: Biodiversity strategies and action plans
Target 18: Traditional knowledge
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Mexico | Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti


Agriculture contributes significantly to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Conservation agriculture (CA) based on minimal soil disturbance, permanent ground cover and crop rotations reduces GHG emissions. CA improves water infiltration and moisture retention in the ground, conserves soil fertility and health, and increases farmers’ productivity and income. In Mexico’s highlands, where CIMMYT has been running a field trial since 1991, CA has a lower global warming potential (GWP) than conventional tillage (CT). During the last drought in the region (2009), the GWP (including soil carbon sequestration, GHG emissions, fuel use and fertilizer) of maize grown under CA was -7,729 kg CO2 per hectare compared to 1,327 kg CO2 per hectare of maize grown under CT. Soil water content stayed above or near wilting point during the whole dry period under CA, whereas soil water values were below wilting point for three weeks under CT. Yields were up to 4.7 tons per hectare higher under CA than under CT. 


MasAgro has had a positive impact on the lives of more than 300,000 farmers who have adopted conservation agriculture and sustainable farming technologies on 1.3 million hectares to grow 49 maize varieties bred for rain-fed conditions across Mexico.

How do the building blocks interact?

CIMMYT and SAGARPA are implementing MasAgro to help address maize production, biodiversity conservation, food security and sustainable rural development challenges. MasAgro develops a sustainable intensification strategy of maize production systems based on conservation agriculture, and on the development and transfer of improved, high-yielding, climate ready maize seeds to farmers’ fields. MasAgro develops small farmers’ ability to adopt the product of CIMMYT’s research on maize conservation and improvement, agronomy, farming machinery, information and communication technologies (ICTs), and postharvest storage solutions. CIMMYT has developed innovation networks or hubs between maize farmers, researchers, service providers, extension agents, authorities, local seed producers and industry representatives in 12 regions of Mexico that have specific agronomic, ecological, weather, infrastructure and market conditions relevant to maize production. MasAgro offers training to extension agents, technicians and farmers who maintain an ongoing exchange of information that has been key to achieve resource conservation and use efficiency, productivity gains and income increases.


Only in 2017, project partners and participants set up 52 research platforms, 1,468 demonstration modules of sustainable farming practices and 9,053 extension areas in 30 states of Mexico. MasAgro experts organized 2,099 field days to promote sustainable farming in 12 hubs. 33,348 farmers participated in these demonstration events. Furthermore, 5,935 technicians and extension agents attended MasAgro trainings. 40 technicians also completed a one year certification program and joined the 360 experts that CIMMYT has certified in sustainable agriculture since 2011. These technicians monitored sustainable farming practices in 1,390 demonstration modules and in 9,673 extension areas covering over 28,000 hectares. Information collected from the field was registered in MasAgro’s electronic logbook and added to the six-year (2011-2017) project database.

The latest data available shows that the productivity and income of participant farmers growing maize under rain-fed conditions was 92% and 105% higher, respectively, than average yields and income achieved by other farmers in Mexico. On average, rain-fed plots managed with MasAgro’s sustainable intensification practices yielded 25% more grain and revenue to maize farmers than plots managed with conventional practices on the same farm. Similarly, Mexican seed companies have increased 70% their sales of improved seed since 2011.



CIMMYT conserves and improves biodiversity in communities of Oaxaca and the Yucatan Peninsula where subsistence farmers grow native maize. In 2017, MasAgro conducted 38 participatory native maize breeding trials in 12 indigenous communities of Oaxaca. Local farmers, CIMMYT and INIFAP breeders collaborated to improve native maize yield potential and its resistance to prevalent diseases, such as the tar spot complex which causes yield losses of up to 90%. CIMMYT is also repatriating maize landraces at risk in the Yucatan Peninsula where farmers in search of better opportunities stop growing native varieties. CIMMYT partnered with the Mérida-based Mayan World States Foundation to help farmers realize a better price for their produce in established and new markets. Top chefs in Mexico, Europe and the U.S. have sourced grain from small farmers in Oaxaca and the Yucatan Peninsula including Enrique Olvera (Cosme, NYC, and Pujol, Mexico City) and Rene Redzepi (noma, Copenhagen) .

Contributed by

r.curiel_35824's picture

Ricardo Curiel CIMMYT