Obregon: Of wheat, people, and valleys

This is a guest blog written by Dennis Nicuh Lozada. Dennis is a Beachell-Borlaug scholar from the Philippines. He is currently finishing up his Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas with Dr. Esten Mason.


When you think of the northwestern part of Mexico, the first thing that will come to your mind will be the dry valleys of the state of Sonora. Yet, within these arid valleys of the Yaquis will spring one of the world’s most prominent centers for wheat research and serve as one of the homes of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and thousands of hunger fighters following his footsteps.   

Named after a former president of Mexico, Obregon would serve as the birthplace of the “Green Revolution” in the 1960’s. The place reminded me a lot of Arizona and New Mexico, though the main difference is that most people there speak Spanish. American influence is very apparent, which can be clearly seen through the different types of establishments present in the city and having a baseball team of their own- probable consequences of its proximity to the US border. The place offers a unique cultural landscape, distinct from other cities in Mexico that I’ve already visited. For one, their carne asada was superb!

I was in Obregon to attend a part of this year’s Basic Wheat Improvement Course, offered by CIMMYT to young researchers working on wheat. Though I was attending the course for only two weeks, I can say that it had a lasting impact on me as a researcher working with one of the world’s most important food crops. Meeting and interacting with “seasoned” plant breeders encouraged me more to pursue this profession and helped me to develop more a love for my craft. I was inspired and humbled to see the lives of these people who committed themselves to making sure that we would have enough food in the future by developing improved varieties of wheat.

Apart from this, I also met with the other course participants coming from different parts of the globe whom I developed lasting friendships and great admirations. I cannot express how much I am grateful to share time with them while I am in Mexico.

Through the course, I gained broader insights on the importance of the plant breeding profession, of it being both a “science” and an “art”. I have learned more the importance of collaboration as plant breeding, on its very nature is interdisciplinary. It is not an isolated discipline, but it’s a mixture of exciting ones- plant pathology, breeding, molecular biology, genetics, bioinformatics to name a few.

I learned the relevance of going to the field and “talking” with the plants. Nothing will ever replace field work for this is the whole “art” part of plant breeding- seeing how the plants grow in the field and making selections from them. Dr. Borlaug was quoted in saying “Even plants have their language. But they can only whisper. So, we shall not hear their words unless we go very close to them.” Going to the field will enable us to “hear” the plants “talk.”

            It has been a couple of days since I came back to the CIMMYT Headquarters in El Batan. I wish I could have stayed longer but I am already blessed beyond measure to attend the course and experience another part of Mexico.  

The real work starts when one is out of the classroom. Outside the walls of lecture halls and research labs and fields stands a multitude of people who do not have enough food to eat each day. Thousands die of starvation and sickness related to not having the proper nutrition coming from a balanced diet daily.

I should not waste this opportunity given to me to make a difference in the lives of many people from all over the world.  

The fight to end hunger continues by improving wheat varieties- from the valleys of Obregon, Mexico to the farthest corners of the globe.