Mexico’s first international project on tomato agrodiversity has been established thanks to N8 AgriFood pump priming funds.

With researchers from Lancaster University and the University of Leeds, the project focused on tomato agrodiversity in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The initial funding of £15,000 supported early career researchers to establish tomato conservation programs, identify new market opportunities for poor tomato farmers and generate data on the agronomic and nutritional qualities of tomato collections.

The aim of the project, entitled “Levering traditional Mexican tomato agrodiversity and knowledge to develop climate resilient, high-nutrition cultivars”, was to underline future breeding of climate smart, low-input, nutritious varieties of tomato for farmers across Mexico, cultivation for local consumption and for export to reduce environmental impact of tomato production, combat nutritional deficiencies and provide opportunities for increased income generation amongst the marginalised poor Oaxacan farmers.

The project focused on a threatened heritage crop of growing future and global importance, and provided a valuable proof-of-concept, demonstrating that ancestral tomato varieties accumulate different levels of pro-vitamin A and other carotenoids, in conditions where commercial tomato does not perform well. This highlights that tomato agrodiversity is an essential genetic resource for future breeding programs of climate smart, nutrition varieties with broad implications for global agriculture and nutrition.

The project was a new collaboration between distinct disciplines (plant biology – Gabriela Toledo-Ortiz at Lancaster; applied social science – Lisa Marshall at Leeds; and nutrition – Christine Bosch at Leeds). These researchers have established a novel network of international tomato researchers and end-users (farmers, chefs, government). To date, the project has focused heavily on consolidating a team of collaborators in Mexico, including: traditional farmers in Oaxaca; two Mexican leading research groups at Colegio de Post Graduados-Chapingo, Centro Interdisciplinario para el Desarrollo Integral Regional Unidad Oaxaca; Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, and leading chefs in Oaxaca and Mexico City.

Project lead Gabriela Toledo-Ortiz, said: “Our baseline work will enable future climate smart, low-input, nutritious varieties, which is essential to balancing social and environmental sustainability objectives.

“Developing healthier fruits is also important to the nutrition of marginalized populations suffering from nutrient deficiencies (e.g.,vitamin A, micronutrients). Finally, the project engages and supports poor Oaxacan farmers.”