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Tribute to Hugo Córdova: the passing of a great scientist and hunger fighter

May 14, 2012

The CIMMYT community and friends across the globe mourn the loss of maize breeder and distinguished scientist, Hugo Salvador Córdova Orellana, who died on 25 December 2009. Córdova worked for more than three decades with CIMMYT to improve the food security of disadvantaged maize farmers and consumers.

Seeds of merit for bountiful harvests
Among other things, Córdova helped generate improved varieties and hybrids sown on at least 4 million hectares throughout the developing world, 0.5 million hectares of which comprises quality protein maize (QPM). Estimates during the 1990s placed at USD 70 million annually the value of additional grain production in Central America from the work of Córdova and partners. He was tireless in the field and in his efforts to see that advanced agricultural technology, such as resilient, high-yielding maize hybrids, reached farmers’ hands.

From Central America to the world
A native of El Salvador, Córdova 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, before returning to CIMMYT in 1975 as a post-doctoral fellow to focus on maize breeding and agronomy for Central America. He played a major role in the Regional Maize Program for Central America and the Caribbean, 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.

In 1992 he joined and later headed CIMMYT’s lowland tropical maize subprogram. An expert breeder and indefatigable worker, Córdova helped develop over 70 inbred maize lines used in breeding programs worldwide. He became coordinator of the global QPM program in 1997, helping create and promote high-yielding QPM varieties now sown in 26 countries.

The seeds grow on
Córdova’s meritorious career was crowned with over 50 recognitions and awards. Many were bestowed by Latin American governments, whose members saw first-hand the benefits of his work in their countries. In recognition of his great mind, persevering work ethic, and complete dedication to his calling, in 2006 CIMMYT awarded Córdova the title of “Distinguished Scientist,” an honor held by only five other center members. Despite official retirement from CIMMYT in 2007, Córdova continued his work as a center consultant until his death.

Córdova 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. His passion and talents inspired colleagues and partners alike. Though no longer with us, the seeds he sowed—both in farmers’ fields and in fond memories—will grow on.