Rising agricultural prices, combined with growing import dependence, have driven Mexico’s food import bill over $20 billion per year and increased its agricultural trade deficit. Mexico imports one-third of its maize, overwhelmingly from the United States, but three million producers grow most of the country’s white maize, which is used primarily for tortillas and many other pluricultural products for human consumption. Yield gaps are large among the country’s small to medium-scale maize farmers, with productivity estimated at just 57% of potential. To what extent could Mexico close this yield gap, using proven technologies currently employed in the country, to regain its lost self-sufficiency in maize? A comprehensive review of the literature highlights the potential for achieving that goal. With a new government coming to power in Mexico, policy options are examined, identifying those most likely to increase both maize productivity and sustainable resource use while reducing import dependence. With climate change likely to constrain input-intensive agricultural productivity growth, these involve an emphasis on farmer-led extension services, the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, and improved water management, including expanded irrigation.
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Originally published at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University in October 2012.