Mexico’s New Law on Protection of Native Maize May Balance out the PVP Playfield
By Enriqueta Molina Macias, Santamarina y Steta, S.C.
Mexico has huge biodiversity; it is considered one of the five megadiverse countries; it is the place of origin and diversity of several crops of global relevance, such as maize, poinsettia, avocado, or vanilla, and, as a result, of a wide variety of ecological characteristics. It is also a place of cultural diversity: there are currently 62 ethnical groups, and the agro-diversity is closely linked to the use of plant genetic resources in their traditions and practices.
Maize occupies a special place in Mexican culture; the Popol Vuh, one of the sacred books of the Mayan culture, proclaims that humans were created from Maize. That is how important maize is for Mexico. Therefore, knowledge, selection, domestication and cultivation of native maize are intimately connected to our culture, values and identity.
In Mexico, maize is cultivated in a wide array of environments from areas at the sea level to the highlands, even in unfavourable conditions. This is a result of the crop’s adaptability due to its broad genetic diversity, as well as the conservation and selection efforts undertaken for generations by the agricultural and indigenous communities. These adaptive features are particularly important for research and development of new varieties with better adaptation and input use efficiency.
Nowadays, maize is used for the preparation of hundreds of traditional culinary dishes, including ‘tortillas’ along with estimated four thousand other uses, including forage, dressings, beverages, adhesives, binders, bioethanol, cosmetics, paper, drugs, bioplastics, textiles, explosives, to name just a few. Therefore, maize’s value is not only in the landraces as a crop but its culinary, economic, social, and cultural significance.
Given these complex considerations, in April 2019, the Senate introduced a draft bill for the Promotion and Protection of Native Maize, with the purpose to conserve and protect landraces and native cultivars of maize, called ‘criollos’. The first draft was approved in August of the same year and was then submitted to the Chamber of Deputies in September 2019.
This first draft was opened to technical groups and stakeholders to debate, and it was possible to improve the document, in particular the definitions, to properly focus on the native maize for the management and enforcement of the regulation, which was approved on March 24 and issued on April 13, 2020. See the Official Law Publication (ES).
The key elements of the Law could be summarized as follows:
The purpose of the Law is to declare the production, trade and consumption of Native Maize (defined as landraces of Zea mays subsp. mays that indigenous and farmers communities have cultivated from their heirloom seeds), as a cultural manifestation, as a material and intangible element linked to the history, tradition and knowledge of the communities and, therefore, as a part of their identity.
It creates the National Council of Native Maize as a consultation body to support actions aimed at promotion and protection of the native maize, including research and dissemination of knowledge.
It establishes geographic areas of the native maize production under traditional systems. According to this Law and the provisions of the Federal Law of Biosafety of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), these areas could be put under a special regime of protection to keep them GMO-free.
It recognizes community seed banks as preservation centers promoting biodiversity.
Impact of the New Law
This is the first regulatory effort to recognize the farmers’ contribution to conservation and diversity of the native maize, as its holders and developers; therefore, the main achievement of this Law is to strengthen the conservation efforts. However, the main challenge of this new Law will be its effective implementation and development of concrete strategies to promote and enhance the conservation and sustainable use of the crop.
Two circumstances make this new Law transcendent. First and foremost, it is maize’s undeniable significance as a leading food crop in Mexico and worldwide and its cultural value for our country. As Mexico is the place of origin and diversity of many other important crops, there is hope that this Law will contribute to the development of measures regarding Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
On the other hand and slightly off the record, the enactment of this Law was treated as a condition to opening way to the draft amendment of Mexico’s Plant Variety Law, which has been under review in the past years and has been recently re-introduced by the Chamber of Deputies on April 30, 2019. Mexico is reviewing current regulations to modernize guidelines and reflect the experience acquired in more than two decades of implementation of the Plant Variety Protection system, The ultimate goal is to strengthen PVR enforcement, to adjust provisions to accede to 1991 Act of the UPOV Convention, and to encourage innovation and technology transfer as a strategic key factor for development.
About the Author:
Enriqueta Molina Macías is an Associate at Santamarina & Steta, a Mexico-based law firm and a CIOPORA Lawyer Member, where she specializes in Intellectual Property protection, franchising and licensing.
From 2003 to 2015, Enriqueta was responsible for the development of the Mexican System on Plant Variety Protection as a SNICS General Director (Servicio Nacional de Inspección y Certificación de Semillas). From 1996 to 2015, she represented Mexico at UPOV.
Cover picture by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash.com.