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The passing of one of CIMMYT’s Distinguished Scientists

January 8, 2010

HC-ElSalv-Sep09-crop2The CIMMYT community and friends across the globe mourn the loss of great maize breeder Hugo Salvador Córdova Orellana who died on 25 December 2009. Hugo spent 32 years with the center striving, and often times succeeding, to increase global food security.

In Hugo’s three decades with CIMMYT he drastically changed the world of maize in Central America. He contributed to the development and spread of improved maize varieties across millions of hectares; promoted and popularized quality protein maize (QPM); co-authored hundreds of papers; and was an inspiration to his students, staff, and the global agricultural community. In recognition of a great mind, persevering work ethic, and complete dedication to his calling, Hugo earned the title of CIMMYT Distinguished Scientist, a title held by only five other center members. Despite official retirement from CIMMYT in 2007, Hugo continued his work as a CIMMYT consultant until his death.

Hugo first arrived at CIMMYT in September of 1969 as a trainee in the Global Maize Program. He then spent several years with the National Agriculture School Santa Tecla in El Salvador, his native country, before returning to El Batán in 1975 as a maize post-doctorate. His work focused on maize breeding and agronomy for Central America and he played a major role in the development of the Regional Maize Program (PRM), a network of researchers from nine countries and CIMMYT that worked with support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to develop and spread improved maize varieties and crop management practices. An estimate in the mid-1990s credits Córdova and PRM members for adding USD $70 million annually to the value of Central American grain production.

Colombia4In 1992 he joined the Tropical Lowland Maize Subprogram. An expert breeder with a tireless work ethic, Hugo helped develop over 70 inbred maize lines, which have been released in over 15 countries. It is estimated that at least 4 million hectares throughout the developing world are sown with maize varieties that at some point passed through Hugo’s hands.

Hugo became the coordinator of the Global Quality Protein Maize (QPM) Program in 1997. He helped develop several high-yielding QPM varieties and it is largely thanks to his efforts that 0.5 million hectares in Central American are sown with QPM, a type of enhanced maize that increases consumers’ protein intake and can help decrease malnutrition.

The passion Hugo had for his work was evident to all who knew him and was further highlighted by over 50 recognitions and awards. Many the awards were bestowed by Latin American governments who saw first-hand the benefits Hugo’s work had in their respective countries. Hugo leaves behind a wealth of knowledge: he co-authored hundreds of publications, mentored more than 60 graduate and undergraduate students, and coordinated or lectured in numerous training courses.

Condolences are offered to Hugo’s wife, América, and his children, Lucy and Hugo. Though Hugo is no longer with us, the seeds he planted, both in the ground and in our memories, will grow on.