Maize Research Paper
MAIZE RESEARCH PAPER 1
Maize is one of the most widespread and significant cereal across theglobe. Maize is also referred to as Indian corn or simply corn in theNorth America. Its botanical name is Zea mays L (Wei etal., 2007). Successful maize farming relies on the appropriate use ofproduction inputs such as cultivars, soil tillage implements, andfinancial resources among others, which sustain agriculturalproduction and the environment. In most of the underdeveloped anddeveloping nations, maize serves as the staple diet while themajority of the developed countries mainly consume corn assecond-cycle food. For example, countries such as Canada, UnitedStates, and China have largely invested in maize farming. They usethe crop for human or livestock consumption as well as industrialpurposes. On the other hand, in semi-arid regions in Latin Americaand Africa, people consume green maize usually milled into flour,roasted or boiled with beans. Fundamentally, maize production hasbeen indispensable in alleviating food scarcity globally andproviding raw materials for industrial uses.
History of Maize
Historians and scholars claim that maize is one of the earliesthuman-domesticated crops. It is believed that maize dates back toapproximately 8700 years ago when it first germinated as a wild grassknown as teosinte in Central Mexico (Tenaillon & Charcosset,2011). Mesoamerican natives improved the plant when they realized itspotential importance as a primary food crop. They enriched the cropby analytically selecting specific varieties for their favoritetraits. This procedure resulted in the gradual change of teosinte tothe current day form referred as maize. Mesoamerican gave the cropthe name maize from a derivative of mahiz, which implied asource of life for natives mainly Tanio people who had specialized inmaize cultivation. Later, early European settlers started referringthe crop as corn rather than maize. The word corn came from theGermanic term korn, which denoted any palatable grass. TheEuropean settlers started engaging in maize production thus spreadingit to other regions of the West. Additionally, it is believed thatPortuguese introduced corn to the tropical Africa as they pursuedtheir economic motives (McCann, 2001). Maize production subsequentlyspread to other regions in Africa such as Zanzibar, River Congomouth, Kenya, and Niger Delta. Since then, maize production hasspread to nearly all continents where maize can thrive.
Present Situation of Maize
The technological advancements have revolutionized corn productionglobally making it a reliable and readily available cereal. Duringthis 21st century, corn breeders and researchers have developednumerous varieties adaptable to various environments. As a result, aconsiderable number of cultivars for commercial purposes currentlyare from hybrid (F1) seed, which involves two or more hereditarylines. With this new technology, many countries have been able toincrease their yields thus helping in alleviating food scarcity. Forinstance, Canadian farmers produce three major types of maize, namelygrain corn, sweet corn, and silage. These three types of corn havebeen important in enhancing the reliability of maize in Canada aswell as the neighboring nations. Similarly, corn production in theworld has also increased to about 2453.8 metric tons of maize yearly(Ranum, Peña‐Rosas &Garcia‐Casal, 2014. Thecommercialization of maize farming has ensured availability of enoughcorn needed across the globe mainly owing to the increase of hybridseeds.
Historical and Contemporary Production of Maize
Historical Maize Farming
Traditionally, farmers planted maize in small-scale mainly forsubsistence use. They cultivated small farms and planted previousseason seeds for the consecutive season. Additionally, traditionalfarmers used organic materials such as livestock waste to addnutrients to their farms. They also used simple tools such asmoldboard ploughs, chisel ploughs, disc ploughs, and rippers to tilltheir land. At the time, farmers had little knowledge of agriculturalpractices, and thus they used imprecise fertilizer quantities andplant spacing, resulting into wasted inputs and land. Indeed, McCann(2001) argues that traditional farmers controlled pesticides andweeds through crop rotation instead of chemical substances usedtoday. Crop rotation helped to preserve soil fertility since the landhad enough time to regain fertility. However, although most of thetraditional farmers produced maize for domestic purpose, Europeansettlers owned large maize plantations mainly for commercial use.They employed high-yielding agro ecosystems methods such as mixedcropping, input-extensive, labor-intensive to increase theirproduction.
Modern Maize Farming
The contemporary maize production is characterized by the use ofimproved farming methods and sophisticated farming tools. Today,maize farming is not only for domestic purposes but also forcommercial purposes. Indeed, many farmers depend on corn farming astheir primary source of income. To achieve this end, modern farmersuse highly mechanized tools such as tractors to plough a large pieceof land. According to Wei et al. (2007), farmers today areknowledgeable of the appropriate farming techniques to increase theirproduction. Modern planting methods ensure correct spacing forsunlight and nutrients, proper grain development, and limitedcompetition from other crops and weeds. Most of the large plantationsplant one corn seed in every hole, with a spacing of approximately 25cm by 75 cm. This new planting technique differs significantly fromtraditional farming, where farmers used to broadcast seedsarbitrarily, or used a stick to dig planting holes and then pourseveral seeds (dipping). Modern farmers rely on irrigation owing toinsufficient rainfall, which causes water scarcity. Importantly, someof the farmers embrace greenhouse maize production in which theycontrol weather conditions.
In the contemporary world, farmers have also formed groups throughwhich they conduct research on maize farming. Indeed, farmers attenda chain of modern and practical technical training, including groundpreparation, planting, pacing, and gapping. Additionally, governmentsfrom different countries such as Canada conduct agricultural researchon behalf on the farmers. They also provide agricultural inputs suchas seeds and fertilizers to farmers at standardized prices.Importantly, the rise of the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)seeds has transformed large-scale maize production. GMO seeds growfast and adapt well to different environments thus guaranteeing heavyyields (Rivest & Vézina, 2015). For example, Canada andPhilippines grow Bt maize variety, which has significantly increasedmaize yields in the two countries.
Maize Harvesting and Storage
Harvesting takes place as soon as the maize dries. Ranum, Peña‐Rosas& Garcia‐Casal (2014)argue that the optimum harvesting date is when the entire plant drymatter ranges between 28 to 32% while the cob dry matter rangesbetween 50 to 55%. If maize overstays in the fields, weevils mayattack them. Importantly, harvesting at the appropriate time givesenough time to prepare the land for the next planting season.Traditionally, maize harvesting was usually done using hands.However, in the contemporary world, maize harvesting is done usingmachines such as combined harvester, which can harvest large tractsof land within a short period. Hand harvesting is still used today inthe underdeveloped nations while the developed countries embracemachinery harvesting.
Immediately after harvesting, various processes remain essentialbefore storage of the maize. Foremost, corn is dried since itsgreatest enemy is moisture (Rivest & Vézina, 2015). Wet grainsattract weevils and insects, which feed on maize. Therefore, farmersneed to dry maize as soon as possible. The second process is shellingwhere farmers remove grains from the cob either using hands or usingsticks to beat maize cobs in a confined floor or a sack. Lastly,farmers store the grains in moisture-free rooms. The primaryobjective of any storage system is to ensure the stored grains remainin the good state to avoid worsening both in quality and in quantity.During storage, maize grain must be clean and dry. With efficientstorage facilities, maize could be stored for up to two years withoutany decrease in quality and quantity.
Uses of Maize
Maize has both subsistence and industrial uses. According to Rivest &Vézina (2015), various maize varieties have different uses asfollows:
The United States use field corn to feed livestock while other nations use it for consumption.
Sweet corn has a genetic variation that makes it accumulate a lot of sugar and less percentage of starch in their kernels and thus used for consumption.
Baby corn also known as Asian cuisine is also used for consumption.
Popcorn has kernels that have the ability to expand when heated. Indeed, when heated, they explode with a “pop” sound and thus cultivated for consumption purpose.
Indian corn is used for ornamental purposes because of its colored kernels.
Additionally, maize is also useful in other ways as follows:
In Italy, Brazil, Africa, and Romania, people mill maize to produce flour, which is used to make thick porridge or prepare a meal. Individuals also use maize meal as a supplement in making baked products such as cornbread.
Mexicans use limewater to treat cornmeal to make Masa, which is the primary ingredient for atole and tortillas among other Mexican dishes.
Maize kernels also make cornstarch, which is rich in starch, and used as a stiffening agent in soups.
Industries use corn syrup as a sweetener in the production of various products such as candy, soda, bread, and cookies.
Historical and Contemporary Issues Associated with Maize
Unfavorable climatic conditions continue to affect corn farmingadversely. Severe heat waves, droughts, and floods during key momentsin the maize growth cycle are becoming progressively common,resulting into dramatic supply shocks year by year. Maize is auniquely sensitive crop to water stress and hot temperatures.According to the latest weather forecasting report, farmers globallyshould expect a higher intensity and incidence of floods, extremeheat, and droughts, which would reduce maize ability to pollinate.Maize is a thirsty crop and receives a significant amount of theirrigation water than any other American crop (Ranum, Peña‐Rosas& Garcia‐Casal, 2014).In fact, water demand needed for corn irrigation has risen owing tothe geographic extension of the plant, particularly in regions withhigh groundwater depletion and water stress. Therefore, increasingly severe weather conditions would adversely influence cornfarming leading to a reduced production.
There has been cultural concern that introduction of transgenic maizecrops may result in genetic diversity, which could adversely affectcommunities’ cultural threads. Many scholars argue that theexistence of transgenic genetic paradigms in native maize wouldcontribute to loss of cultural heritage through the extinction ofindigenous maize variety (Tenaillon & Charcosset, 2011). However,some experts claim that although transgenic crops would acceleratethe loss of hereditary variety and cultural knowledge, impacts maynot be severe since the world is evolving day by day. Importantly,the Green Revolution could also increase modern varieties withoutnecessarily altering the genetic integrity of the indigenous species.In this regard, there is a need to address the cultural aspectsrelating to maize production to make informed decisions regarding thecultural relationships of maize evolution and agro-ecologicalmanagement.
The GMO foods have been of the most contentious topics in the lastfew years. The majority of the European environmental organizations,public interest groups, and NGOs among others have been activelyopposing GM foods. Indeed, latest controversial studies concerningthe health effects of GM food have aroused genetic engineering issueto the vanguard of the public consciousness (Rivest & Vézina,2015). In return, many governments, as well as political leadersglobally, have taken diverse approaches to address this hot subjecton GM foods. For instance, the European Council has set up laws andregulations regarding GM foods to safeguard human health and Europeansocial interests. The EU rules give specific guidelines on how GMproducts should be branded in terms of the involved modifications.Despite the efforts to label genetic make-up of GM foods, there arestill disagreements owing to advances in technology and science.
Worldwide maize economy has undergone primary changes over the pastseveral years in terms of utilization, production, trade as well asthe marketing system. Large-scale farmers are disappointed about theeconomics of producing maize because of overproduction and the riseof GM foods. The expected profits from growing modern maize varietieshave not materialized for the majority of the farmers. A technologyfee has dramatically raised the costs for different corn varieties.Indeed, the prices of maize seeds increased by about 25 to 40% morecompared to the previous costs half a decade ago (Ranum, Peña‐Rosas& Garcia‐Casal, 2014).Furthermore, there has been a virtual downfall of the North Americanmaize export trade owing to the rebuff of GM crops by variousnations. Many countries have agreed to preserve theircultural/traditional diets and corn growing techniques rather thanabandon them since GM seeds would not only adversely affect theirmarkets but also their traditional food sources.
Micro and Macro Nutrients Contained by Maize
Maize is a highly nutritious food. It has high levels of starch aswell as valuable oils and proteins. Maize may provide vital nutrientssuch as Vitamin C, folic acid, and pro-vitamin A depending on itsvariety. Further, maize is rich in manganese, copper, selenium, zinc,iron, and phosphorus and contains small quantities of calcium andpotassium. Maize is also a notable source of protein and dietaryfiber although it contains little amounts of sodium (salt) and fat.Nevertheless, corn is naturally deficient in tryptophan and lysine,which are fundamental amino acids necessary for human development andthus needs to be included in the diet. According to Meng et al.(2013), maize has incredible variation in composition and content ofmany colored pigments commonly referred to as carotenoids. Normalbody metabolic processes lead to the conversion of the pro-vitamin A(carotenoid beta-carotene) into vitamin A. Indeed, healthpractitioners point out that Vitamin A is very imperative to humanhealth mainly for vision or as an antioxidant. Therefore, maize isfundamental food for humans for their growth, development, and mostimportantly for healthy lifestyles.
Corn and China
The maize spread to China during the Ming dynasty in the 16thcentury. Businesspeople who traded with the Ming dynasty introducedcorn to China. However, maize farming did not succeed during the Mingdynasty since it was involved in wars with other civilizations.Additionally, the world experienced ice age during the 17th century,which adversely affected maize growth in Northern China because maizeis a cold-intolerant crop. Fortunately, the rise of the Qing dynastyencouraged individuals to plant corn in China since by the time iceage had gone (Meng et al., 2013). Afterward, maize farming spread toother provinces of China. Currently, the main maize farming regionsare located in the belt traversing from northeastern to southwesternChina. In most of these areas, the dominant maize variety is springmaize, which depends solely on rainfall water. Nonetheless, some ofthe regions cultivate maize through irrigation. The emergence of themiddle class has augmented Chinese maize consumption. Despite theincreased consumption, maize production has significantly reducedowing to lack of crop rotation program that helps in replenishingsoil fertility. Corn remains an important food crop in China becauseit assists in feeding the rapidly growing Chinese population.
Reflection and Conclusions
The world faces several environmental problems such as rapidpopulation increase, and thus agriculture becomes an important aspectowing to the risk of food insecurity. In this regard, in pursuit ofmy desire to research on food that has significantly helped inalleviating food insecurity, maize production seemed to serve thepurpose adequately. During my research on maize, I have gained newinsights into the evolution of the maize since the historical periodto the contemporary world. Importantly, I have understood thattechnology have both positive and negative impacts on corn farmingand thus caution need to be taken when seeking to improve variousindigenous crops we have today to avoid health concerns as thoseassociated with GMO food. In conclusion, for countries that are foodsecure, the idea that there are so many hungry individuals elsewherein the world is virtually unfathomable. However, people who havevisited regions, which are drought stricken appreciates the fact thatthe issue of food insecurity is real. Therefore, there is need toembrace maize farming to address food shortage problem and mostimportantly promote healthy lifestyles owing to the nutritional valueof the maize.
McCann, J. (2001). Maize and grace: history, corn, and Africa`s newlandscapes, 1500–1999. Comparative Studies in Society andHistory, 43(02), 246-272.
Meng, Q., Hou, P., Wu, L., Chen, X., Cui, Z., & Zhang, F. (2013).Understanding production potentials and yield gaps in intensive maizeproduction in China. Field crops research, 143, 91-97.
Ranum, P., Peña‐Rosas, J.P., & Garcia‐Casal, M.N. (2014). Global maize production, utilization, and consumption.Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1312(1),105-112.
Rivest, D., & Vézina, A. (2015). Maize yield patterns on theleeward side of tree windbreaks are site-specific and depend onrainfall conditions in eastern Canada. Agroforestry Systems,89(2), 237-246.
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Wei, F., Coe, E. D., Nelson, W., Bharti, A. K., Engler, F., Butler,E., … & Fuks, G. (2007). Physical and genetic structure of themaize genome reflects its complex evolutionary history. PLoSGenet, 3(7), 1254-1263.
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