Changes in farmers' knowledge of maize diversity in highland Guatemala

J. van Etten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Small-scale studies on long-term change in agricultural knowledge might uncover insights with broader, regional implications. This article evaluates change in farmer knowledge about crop genetic resources in highland Guatemala between 1927/37 and 2004. It concentrates on maize (Zea mays ssp. mays L.) in one Guatemalan township, Jacaltenango, an area with much ecological and maize diversity. It relies on a particular type of baseline information: lists of farmer-defined cultivars drawn up by ethnographers in the first half of the twentieth century. A questionnaire format based on two independent lists of local farmer cultivars dating from 1927 and 1937 was used to assess changes in maize diversity. Comparisons between attributes given to each cultivar in the past and in 2004 were used as a partial test of the stability of cultivar identity. In farmers' perceptions, cultivar loss was low and limited to certain cultivars adapted to the warmer environments. Crop production problems were mentioned as the main motives for change. No evidence for a loss of cultivars due to the political violence of the 1980s was found. In the lower areas many newly introduced cultivars were found, which reportedly provide solutions for the production problems the older cultivars have. The article contrasts these findings with those of an earlier study which suggested much cultivar loss due to political violence, and draws conclusions about the methodological implications
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
JournalJournal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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