Homero Melis, is a third generation Mexican farmer who has been farming for more than 20 years. He is currently the secretary of Mexico’s National Agriculture Council (Consejo Nacional Agropecuario – CNA). As the world celebrates the achievements of Dr. Norman Borlaug this week, Homero Melis reflects on the impact Dr. Borlaug’s work has had on Mexican agriculture.
What type of farm do you have?
My fields are in the Maya and the Yaqui Valleys. These lands are irrigated with dam water, and we also have groundwater pump systems to support the Yaqui and Maya district irrigation plans. I call myself a diversified farmer because I plant vegetables, such as peppers, tomatoes, vegetable oil plants, pinto beans and yellow beans, safflower, as well as wheat and maize. Wheat is my most important and reliable crop because of the valley’s weather conditions and irrigation systems.
How has farming changed from when you (and your family) began?
As a farmer, I have experienced many changes, as well as a significant increase in production. Our different wheat varieties average about 4.8 tons per hectare and we have harvested up to 6.5 tons per hectare of corn. Yields today average seven tons. The potential for wheat and wheat varieties is 10 tons per hectare, and I have actually harvested up to 14 tons of corn per hectare on occasion.
How has Norman Borlaug’s contributions to wheat and Mexican agriculture impacted your farm?
Thanks to Dr. Borlaug’s efforts here in the Yaqui and Maya Valleys – and in Mexico in general – wheat cultivation has completely changed the region’s economy and the overall productivity of Mexico farmers, enabling us to obtain higher yields.
What do you see as his (Borlaug’s) greatest impact to farming in Mexico?
One of the lessons I have learned on a personal level here in Mexico, primarily in the Yaqui and Maya Valleys, is that producers must always stay involved, support the researchers who work on further improving crop genetics, and address challenges hand-in-hand with the researchers.
What do you think the future of farming will look like?
Agriculture has to be more competitive. We increasingly produce more on less land and our water use is as efficient as possible. Organic crops have their place in today’s agriculture, but it is biotechnology that holds the future of genetic improvement. Biotechnology is the only way to make agriculture more productive. It helps us more effectively identify seed varieties that can thrive and adapt in various parts of the world, ensuring we can produce as much food as possible. Biotechnology also allows us to be better stewards of our resources.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a farmer in Mexico?
One of the challenges we face is that we do not have access to biotechnology tools. We are unable to compete with other producers worldwide, and we, as a country, must be self-sufficient in terms of food production.
Do you believe that Norman Borlaug’s contributions to agriculture will continue to impact and improve the agriculture industry in the future? If so, how?
I do believe Dr. Borlaug’s contributions will continue to impact the industry. His legacy in promoting collaboration between researchers and the industry has led us to focus more on developing new products with enhanced nutrients consumers can benefit from.
If you could have met Norman Borlaug, what would you say or ask him?
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Borlaug. But if I were able to talk to him again, I’d ask several things, specifically about his vision as a researcher. First, what can growers do to ensure we follow his vision of producing more food at cheaper prices so even the poorest people throughout the world can eat well? Second, what are his thoughts on CIMMYT and its germplasm bank, and the varieties it has given the world? Next, how would he encourage seed companies throughout the world to continue supporting public research centers and world governments and producers to stay involved? Finally, how can we invest more in researchers, to whom we have less access all the time?