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PhD project: Assessing trade-offs and synergies between ecosystem services in highland maize-based landscapes of Central Mexico

Maize is an extended crop taking part in human and animal diets worldwide. In developing regions of Mesoamerica, it is a major source of food calories. Global trends suggest that the demand for maize will increase in the short term. Fluctuations in Maize supply, demand and in market prices compromises maize affordability for the most vulnerable populations around the world.

In Mexico, maize has a central role in the diet, and it is deeply rooted in the collective culture. Maize production in Mexico is running on deficit, 40% of the grain consumed in the country is imported. Even though, large scale farmers in the Northwest region of Mexico are highly productive, they represent a small share of the cultivated area. Meanwhile, small scale farmers represent 85% of maize farmers accounting for 4.6 million hectares, mostly producing maize for local consumption, and performing at 50% of its productive potential. Around 75% of national maize production comes from small scale farmers, that commonly produce native maize varieties. Native maize varieties come from selective breeding throughout generations of farmers, favouring characteristics for local adaptation and desired quality for traditional dishes. These varieties are owned by farmers, ensuring access to seed supply, food, and animal feed for the next productive season. In the central highland regions of Mexico, native maize average yield is c.a. 3 t/ha, whereas 5 to 9 t/ha have been achieved under experimental conditions.

This PhD Project will focus on 1) Characterizing native maize agroecosystems; 2) Delivering farm design options that optimize productivity, self-sufficiency and agroecological services; 3) Assessing variability in yield components of native maize cultivars in response to management options across agroecosystems; 4) Assessing alternative agroecosystems design in their contributions to ecosystem services at farm and landscape level, that can be used for land use planning and sectoral policies.