Sunday, 05 February 2017 00:00

Disappearing Corn: Making Tortillas Without the Main Ingredient

Climate change makes growing corn in parts of Central America near impossible. So these farmers are turning to a new old grain to get by.

making tortillas without the main ingredient- international development week 2017- no text

For family farmers in Nicaragua, maize is an essential crop, making an appearance at nearly every family meal in the form of tortillas. But long periods of drought and increasingly unreliable rain are making growing corn in the Central American country harder by the day.

What can small-scale farmers turn to when they can't harvest maize due to the shifting climate? It turns out sorghum, an ancient grain that uses half the water corn needs to grow, can be a pretty tasty tortilla alternative.

"Tortilla is so important," says Marvin Gómez, our Seeds of Survival program facilitator based in Honduras, of the daily staple. While a certain sorghum variety may be able to withstand drought, Marvin explains, whether or not it is able to replace corn as the main ingredient in tortillas can make or break the variety. It has to make good tortillas.

A tortilla made with Sorghum

A tortilla made with sorghum. (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

So, crossing a sorghum variety from Burkina Faso with a local variety, Nicaraguan farmers actually bred the sorghum by selecting the ones that became the best tortillas. They called it Sorgo Blanco Tortillero.

And the farmers who bred the grain plan to spread it to other farmers in the region so everyone can benefit from its drought-resistance – and tastiness! Soon with the support of USC Canada's Seeds of Survival program, farmers we work with in Honduras will have the chance to grow Sorgo Blanco Tortillero too, when they begin planting the Nicaraguan variety in their own fields.

What other ways are Canadians supporting climate action in Nicaragua?

Farmer Santos Manuel Miranda croutching in his corn field Nicaragua. he is pointing to the tallest stalk of corn in the field, with would come up to about his thigh if he were standing up.

Santos Manuel Miranda (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

Farmer Santos Manuel Miranda (above) has not seen a normal corn harvest in seven years. Unpredictable precipitation – often no rain at all – has made growing maize in rural Madriz, Nicaragua near impossible. Family farmers have picked up their lives and moved to cities in search of work and many local maize varieties have vanished, having died out after years of crop failures. Santos is part of a network of corn breeders who are working together to improve the plant's ability to survive drought, with USC Canada support.

A man in a cap, tshirt and jeans stands in a farm field with clearly alternating crops planted in rows behind him

Lino Paz Lopez in his field of maize and millet. (Photo: Beatriz Oliver/USC Canada)

"The solution is to diversify," says Juana Mercedes López, a youth member of the Seeds of Survival program in Nicaragua. Farmers throughout the region are learning to diversifying their fields as an insurance policy against increasingly erratic seasons. 

In Madriz, Lino Paz Lopez (above) sows maize and millet together. So if the maize dies, he still reaps millet, a grain that thrives with little water. Next he plants sorghum, a quick growing grain, to make up for the lack of maize.

Learn more about how farmers are adapting to climate change in Central America through our Seeds of Survival program.

Working for Global Goals

Everyone is experiencing the effects of climate change but some people have been hit harder by erratic weather, floods and drought. At the forefront of these are farmers, whose very livelihoods rely on a healthy planet.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, also called Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 goals sketch out how humanity can work toward shaping a better world.

Goal 13 is to take action on climate change and help people in more vulnerable areas adapt to the way the climate has already changed. Together, Canadians from coast to coast answer the call to take climate action and support these climate actions though USC Canada in Nicaragua.


This program is made possible in part by the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Global affairs Canada - Affairs mondiales Canada

Read 1200 times Last modified on Monday, 06 February 2017 20:35

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We’re called USC Canada because we started out way back in 1945 as the Unitarian Service Committee, founded by the energetic Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova. We’re still planting the seeds that Lotta sowed. Find out more about our founder, Dr. Lotta Hitschmanova.

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