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Agroforestería con palma aceitera y almacenamiento de carbono: una alternativa a las plantaciones de monocultivo en Brasil

Los sistemas agroforestales parecen ser una alternativa satisfactoria a las plantaciones monoculturales de palma aceitera en Brasil. Las investigaciones realizadas por científicos de CIFOR-ICRAF junto con investigadores de la Universidad de Wageningen, la Empresa Brasileña de Investigación Agrícola (EMBRAPA), la Organización de Cooperativas Agroecológicas (OCA) y la Universidad Federal de Viçosa (UFV) demuestran el potencial de las plantaciones diversificadas para aumentar la resiliencia de los sistemas, potenciar los beneficios ambientales y reducir los riesgos para los agricultores.

Las investigaciones se presentaron en el 5º Congreso Mundial de Agroforestería: Transición hacia un mundo viable, celebrado en la ciudad de Québec (Canadá), y en formato digital, del 12 al 22 de julio de 2022.

Uno de los estudios se centró en los resultados iniciales de las unidades demostrativas de agroforestería de palma aceitera codiseñadas y establecidas en 2017/2018 en Tomé-Açu, estado de Pará, en la Amazonía oriental brasileña, en asociación con Natura.

SEGUIR LEYENDO EN WORLD AGROFORESTRY

Monthly Newsletter – Vía Orgánica

For organic regenerative agriculture, fair trade,
social justice, sustainable living and sustainable production 

EDUCATIONAL RANCH VIA ORGÁNICA

Ranch news

Corn and milpa at Rancho Vía Orgánica

In the Jalpa Valley, as in many landscapes in Mexico, you can see rainfed cornfields. This combination of corn, bay beans, green beans, pumpkins that look like they’re in a race to grow; the flowers of olives, sunflowers, thistles that house endless bees and other insects that dance around them; quelites, purslane, mallows and medicinal herbs that appear to grow and share at the same time and in the same place on earth a party called “LA MILPA”. The house of corn and its allies, which provide vast food, medicine and many benefits to the soil and biodiversity.

Although the rain came a little late, the people who cultivate prepared the soil, a mixture of seeds and decided to plant. Some planted dry, others almost at the limit of the dates, risking that the cold does not arrive soon to harvest.

The people who work in the milpa are getting older, despite that, you can still see the corn and the milpa in their homes; and with it, the hope of achieving food sovereignty, staying in the territory, rescuing seeds and inheriting the knowledge of our ancestors. 

Cultivating the milpa is a powerful act and this bulletin is dedicated on this occasion to all the families who are summoned to continue cultivating on their rainfed plots. Waiting for a good cycle of rains, waiting for the moon to sow or harvest, the first corn, squash flowers and milpa tomatillos, tiny and sweet. 

Each rainy season is a challenge for the producers who store their corncobs from the last cycle, which were harvested with the moon to prevent them from getting holes, in addition, it is common for them to exchange seeds. In doing so, they select the maize plants that do best even in low rainfall. This is the greatest advantage of an open-pollinated seed that improves its production characteristics every year, adapts to the conditions and to each producer. For this reason, it is an important capital and tailored to each zone of the semi-arid landscape.

There is much to be done: let us consider that a native seed of corn, beans and squash with the manure added by the peasants produces on the plot with the water received in the season, what would become of that seed that already has a lot of potential and vigor if it gets complemented with beneficial microorganisms to make available the necessary nutrients and beneficial relationships. In addition, if we add a little worm humus leachate and if the grasshoppers join too, they can be tricked and eaten in a delicious nixtamalized tortilla taco with a molcajete sauce. The damaging effect of grasshoppers can be minimized with nejayote (water that results from the nixtamalization process) To help our milpa, if the cuttings are left on the milpa land with plant biomass as soil food, the result will be a stronger, and more productive cornfield, placed on soil capable to store more water and with higher fertility. 

Cultivating has always been a laborious activity, but now it becomes a real challenge in the face of the climatic situation, even so, the wonders of growing corn and milpa in your home, are one of a kind.   

This month we celebrate corn at home, the milpa, with special tours to discover the species that sprout on our plot, learn what they’re used for, and how plants are related. At the end of your tour ask for your cooked corn and some product from the milpa. 

Billion Agave Project

The milpa coexists with almost everything and in the semi-arid landscape, it gets along between rows of maguey and cactus. That is, surrounded by magueyes as living barriers. Also the pulque and aguamiel, product of the maguey, get along well during a day of farm work, in moderation, because it is a gift from the gods.

This rainy season, the magueyes are so noble that they make the most of the scarce rains received as well as every drop of dew at dawn, storing them in their leaves. They have a thick and waxy cuticle that prevents them from losing moisture. In addition, it is recommended to plant the maguey during these rainy months so that its roots cling to the ground and can be successfully grounded.

Taking advantage of the humidity, seeds of cover crops, grasses and flowers were added to the reforestation; more biomass that is used by wildlife, grazing goats and sheep, even bees take advantage of it.

We also removed the babies or shoots from the maguey plants and place them on the hillside of our water collection system. There are 7 species of magueyes that have been established in the ranch, the common types are the maguey cenizo, which seems to have powder, the jilote, known for its slow development, long life and high production of aguamiel. Another one is the mezcalero maguey or crassispina, it is not very big but it is very tough due to its hook-shaped spines; another one is the maguey pulquero or salmiana, which is the traditional one that we see of a large size and that is commonly cultivated. The smooth agave is an ornamental species, a bit ashy but beautiful, the striped agave or ornamental marginana gives a special spark and finally the berraco, known by the peasants and typical of the area, producers consider that it’s not good to make aguamiel or pulque, but it’s used for animal fodder during dry season.    

SEASONAL CROP

This cycle, the corn will arrive late if the rains continue, so this September, we began to cut squash blossoms, baby squash, green beans, and quelites.

Do it Yourself!

 

 

The best season for direct sowing is when the soil has moisture from the rain, so take advantage of this season and follow these simple steps: 

Prepare a space in the garden to do your sowing, you can also fill a pot with prepared soil or a planter, just make sure the soil is loose and moist before planting. 

INSTRUCTIONS

– Dig a small furrow an inch deep and plant carrot seeds, an easy growing crop that prefers direct shade. 

– Open the second furrow to the previous depth, sow coriander seeds, another one of arugula and one more of lettuce mix. 

– Cover each planted furrow and wait a few days, from the first week you will see the first leaves emerge. 

You will harvest the carrot when it has formed, and for this you must remove one from the ground to verify. It will take approximately 60 days, on the other hand, you can harvest the cilantro by leaves along with the arugula and make a delicious pesto with sunflower seeds or a delicious salad accompanied by your lettuce mix that can be harvested when it is 4 inches tall. 

Come and Visit

Cooking Time

MILPA SOUP

INGREDIENTS

– 4 bunches of squash blossoms, cleaned and chopped
– 4 ears of corn, cleaned and shelled
– 3 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped
– 1 medium onion, finely chopped 
– 1 garlic, finely chopped 
– 1 bunch of epazote
– 2 liters of hot chicken broth
– Salt and oil to taste

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat a saucepan with oil, add the onion and fry for five minutes.
2. Add the garlic and corn kernels and cook for five more minutes.
3. Add salt and hot broth, cook for 20 min.
4. Add the peppers and continue cooking a little longer.
5. Add the flowers and the epazote, cook for 10 min.
6. Season to taste. 

The soup needs to have a lot of liquid. 

September Activities

October Activities

DON’T FORGET TO VISIT US!

Remember that we are open from 8 am to 6 pm
Carretera México/ Querétaro, deviation on the way to Jalpa, km 9
Agroecological Park Vía Orgánica.
For information on our products, seeds and harvest,
call our store at 442 757 0490.
Every Saturday and Sunday nixtamalized tortilla with Creole and local corn!
Enjoy our sweet and sour kale chips for children and not so children!

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Farmers in Mexico Fight Coffee Disease With Resistant Varieties and Agroforestry

  • Indigenous Mixe farmers in Mexico’s Sierra Norte highlands are testing dozens of coffee varieties and developing agroforestry systems in order to combat coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease that spread to the region and devastated coffee production.
  • The project tests the resistance of over 27 different varieties of coffee within a shaded agroforestry system that helps decrease temperatures and create drier conditions – reducing the fungi’s spread.
  • Cultivating organic coffee in times of unpredictable weather is risky, costly and a laborious exercise. The cost of production is also growing, affecting farmers’ eagerness and capacity to cultivate.

SANTIAGO ATITLÁN, Mexico – Lucio Jimenez Ocampo is always surrounded by coffee. In the yard of his house in Santiago Atitlán nestled in the Oaxaca state’s Sierra Norte highlands, there are about a hundred organic coffee plants of different varieties packaged in plastic bags.

KEEP READING ON “MONGABAY”

Agave Power: Greening the Desert

Read in Spanish here.

Agave, from the Greek word αγαυή, meaning “noble” or “admirable,” is a common perennial desert succulent, with thick fleshy leaves and sharp thorns. Agave plants evolved originally in Mexico, but are also found today in the hot, arid, and semi-arid drylands of Central America, the Southwestern U.S., South America, Africa, Oceana, and Asia. Agaves are best known for producing textiles (henequen and sisal) from its fibrous leaves, syrup sweeteners, inulin (a food additive), and alcoholic beverages, tequila, pulque, and mescal, from its sizeable stem or piña, pet food supplements and building materials from its fiber, and bio-ethanol from the bagasse or leftover pulp after the piña is distilled.

Agave’s several hundred different varieties are found growing on approximately 20% of the earth’s surface, often growing in the same desertified, degraded cropland or rangeland areas as nitrogen-fixing, deep-rooted trees or shrubs such as mesquite, acacia, or leucaena. Agaves can tolerate intense heat and will readily grow in drylands or semi-desert landscapes where there is a minimum annual rainfall of approximately 10 inches or 250 mm, and can survive temperatures of 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 10 degrees Celsius).

The several billion small farmers and rural families living in the world’s drylands are often among the most impoverished communities in the world, with increasing numbers being forced to migrate to cities or across borders in search of employment. Decades of corrupt government policies, deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, destructive use of agricultural chemicals, and heavy tillage or plowing have severely degenerated the soils, fertility, water retention, and biodiversity of most arid and semi-arid lands. With climate change, limited and unpredictable rainfall, and increasingly degraded soil in these drylands, it has become very difficult to raise traditional food crops (such as corn, beans, and squash in Mexico) or generate sufficient forage and nutrition for animals. Many dryland areas are in danger of degenerating even further into literal desert, unable to sustain any crops or livestock whatsoever. Besides struggling with corrupt or inept officials, degraded landscapes, poverty, and crop failure, and social conflict, drug trafficking, and organized crime often plague these areas, forcing millions to migrate to urban areas or across borders to seek safety and employment.

Agaves

Agaves basically require no irrigation, efficiently storing seasonal rainfall and moisture from the air it in their thick thorny leaves (pencas) and stem or heart (piña) utilizing their Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) photosynthetic pathway, which enables the plant to grow and produce significant amounts of biomass, even under conditions of severely restricted water availability and prolonged droughts. Agaves reproduce by putting out shoots or hijuelos alongside the mother plant, (approximately 3-4 per year) or through seeds, if the plant is allowed to flower at the end of its 8-13 year (or more) lifespan.

A number of agave varieties appropriate for drylands agroforestry (salmiana, americana, mapisaga, crassipina) readily grow into large plants, reaching a weight of up to 650 kilograms (1400 pounds) in the space of 8-13 years.

Agaves are among the world’s top 15 plants or trees in terms of drawing down large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and producing plant biomass. [Footnote: Park S. Nobel, Desert Wisdom/Agaves and Cacti, p.132] Certain varieties of agave are capable of producing up to 43 tons of dry weight biomass per hectare (17 tons of biomass per acre) or more per year on a continuous basis. In addition, the water use of agaves (and other desert-adapted CAM plants) is typically 4-12 times more efficient than other plants and trees, with average water demand approximately 6 times lower.

Agave-Based Agroforestry

Agave’s nitrogen-fixing, deep-rooted companion trees or shrubs such as mesquite and acacias have adapted to survive in these same dryland environments as well. From an environmental, soil health, and carbon-sequestering perspective, agaves should be cultivated and inter-planted, not as a monoculture, as is commonly done with agave azul (the blue agave species) on tequila plantations in Mexico (often 3,000-4,000 plants per hectare/1215-1600 plants per acre), but as a polyculture. In this polyculture agroforestry system, several varieties of agave are interspersed with native nitrogen-fixing trees or shrubs (such as mesquite or acacias), native vegetation, pasture grass, and cover crops, which fix the nitrogen and nutrients into the soil which the agave needs to draw upon in order to grow and produce significant amounts of biomass/animal forage. If grown as a polyculture, agaves and their companion trees and shrubs can be cultivated on a continuous basis, producing large amounts of biomass for silage and sequestering significant amounts of carbon above ground and below ground (approximately 130 tons of CO2 per hectare on a continuous basis after 10 years), without depleting soil fertility or biodiversity.

In addition to these polyculture practices, planned rotational grazing on these agroforestry pastures, once established, not only provides significant forage for livestock, but done properly (neither overgrazing nor under-grazing, keeping livestock away for several years after initial planting), further improves or regenerates the soil, eliminating dead grasses, invasive species, facilitating water infiltration (in part through ground disturbance i.e. hoof prints), concentrating animal manure and urine, and increasing soil organic matter, soil carbon, biodiversity, and fertility.

Although agave is a plant that grows prolifically in some of the harshest climates in the world, in recent times this plant has been largely ignored, if not outright denigrated. Apart from producing alcoholic beverages, agaves are often considered a plant and livestock pest, along with its thorny, nitrogen-fixing, leguminous companion trees or shrubs such as mesquite and acacias.

But now, the development of a new agave-based agroforestry and holistic livestock management system in the semi-arid drylands of Guanajuato, Mexico, utilizing basic ecosystem restorations techniques, permaculture design, and silage production using anaerobic fermentation, is changing the image of agave and their companion trees. This agave-powered agroforestry and livestock management system is demonstrating that native plants, long overlooked, have the potential to regenerate the drylands, inexpensive feed supplements and essential fermented forage for grazing animals, especially during the dry season, and alleviate rural poverty.

Moving beyond conventional monoculture and chemical-intensive farm practices, and combining the traditional indigenous knowledge of native desert plants and natural fermentation, an innovative group of Mexico-based farmers have learned how to reforest and green their drylands, all without the use of irrigation or expensive and toxic agricultural inputs.

Farmers and researchers have created this new agroforestry program by densely planting, pruning, and inter-cropping high-biomass, high-forage producing species of agaves (1000-2000 per hectare, 405-810 per acre) among pre-existing deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing tree or shrub species (400 per hectare) such as mesquite and acacia, or alongside transplanted tree saplings. For reforestation and biodiversity in the agave/mesquite agroforestry system, the Via Organica research farm in San Miguel has developed acodos or air-layered clones of mesquite trees. These mesquite acodos are essentially mesquite branches from mature trees transformed into saplings planted into the ground, which, after six months to a year of being watered and cared for in the greenhouse, can grow up to two meters tall.

Agaves (especially salmiana, americana, mapisaga, and crassipina) naturally produce large amounts of plant leaf or pencas every year, which can then be chopped up and fermented, turned into silage.  Agave’s perennial silage production far exceeds most other forage production (most of which require irrigation and expensive chemical inputs) with three different varieties (salmiana, americana, and mapisaga) in various locations producing approximately 40 tons per acre or 100 tons per hectare, of fermented silage, annually. The variety crassispina, valuable for its high-sugar piña content for mescal, produces slightly less than 50% of the penca biomass than the other three varieties (average 46.6 tons per year).

The fermented agave silage of the three most productive varieties has a considerable market value of $100 US per ton (up to $4,000 US per acre or $10,000 per hectare gross income). This system, in combination with rotational grazing, has the capacity to feed up to 40 sheep, lambs or goats per acre/per year or 100 per hectare, producing a potential value added net income of $3,000 US per acre or $7,500 per hectare. Once certified as organic, sheep and lamb production will substantially increase profitability per acre/hectare, especially if organic viscera (heart, liver, kidneys etc.) are processed into freeze-dried nutritional supplements.

In addition, the agave heart or piña, with a market value of $150 US per ton, harvested at the end of the agave plant’s 8-13 year-lifespan for mescal (a valuable distilled liquor) or inulin (a valuable nutritional supplement), or silage, can weigh 300-400 kg. (660-880 pounds), in the three most productive varieties. Again the crassispiña variety has a much smaller piña (160 tons per 2000 plants). The value of the piña from 2000 agave plants for the salmiana, americana, and mapisaga varieties, harvested once, at the end of the plant’s productive lifespan (approximately 10 years) has a market value of $52,500 (over 10 years, with 10% harvested annually) US per hectare, with the market value for inulin being considerably more.

Combining the market value of the penca and piña of the three most productive varieties we arrive at a total gross market value of $152,500 US per hectare and $61,538 per acre, over 10 years. Adding the value of the 72,000 hijuelos or shoots of 2000 agave plants (each producing an average of 36 shoots or clones) with a value of 12 pesos or 60 cents US per shoot we get an additional $43,200 gross income over 10 years. Total estimated gross income per hectare for pencas ($100,000), piñas ($52,500), and hijuelos ($43,200) over 10 years will be $195,700, with expenses to establish and maintain the system projected to be to be $15,000 (including fencing) per hectare over 10 years. As these numbers, even though approximate, indicate, this system has tremendous economic potential.

Pioneered by sheep and goat ranchers, Hacienda Zamarippa, in the municipality of San Luis de la Paz, Mexico and then expanded and modified by organic farmers and researchers in San Miguel de Allende and other locations, “The Billion Agave Project” as the new Movement calls itself, is starting to attract regional and even international attention on the part of farmers, government officials, climate activists, and impact investors. One of the most exciting aspects of this new agroforestry system is its potential to be eventually established or replicated, not only across Mexico, but in a significant percentage of the world’s arid and semi-arid drylands, (including major areas in Central America, Latin America, the Southwestern US, Asia, Oceana, and Africa). Arid and semi-arid drylands constitute, according to the United Nations Convention to Prevent Desertification, 40% of the Earth’s lands.

Alleviating Rural Poverty

Besides improving soils, regenerating ecosystems, and sequestering carbon, the economic impact of this agroforestry system appears to be a long-overdue game-changer in terms of reducing and eliminating rural poverty. Currently 90% of Mexico’s dryland farmers (86% of whom do not have wells or irrigation) are unable to generate any profit whatsoever from farm production, according to government statistics. The average rural household income in Mexico is approximately $5,000-6,000 US per year, derived overwhelmingly from off-farm employment and remittances or money sent home from Mexican immigrants working in the US or Canada. Almost 50% of Mexicans, according to government statistics, are living in poverty or extreme poverty.

The chart below compares the high productivity of agave (in terms of animal forage or silage production) compared to other forage crops, all of which, unlike agave and mesquite, require expensive and/or unavailable irrigation or crop inputs. The second chart compares the productivity, in terms of penca or leaf biomass, from the species salmiana. See appendix for comparisons of other agave species in a number of different locations.

 

Deploying the Agave-Based Agroforestry System

The first step in deploying this agave-powered agroforestry and holistic livestock management system involves carrying out basic ecosystem restoration practices. Restoration is necessary given that most dryland areas suffer from degraded soils, erosion, low fertility, and low rainfall retention in soils. Initial ecosystem restoration typically requires putting up fencing or repairing fencing for livestock control, constructing rock barriers (check dams) for erosion control, building up contoured rows and terracing, subsoiling (to break up hardpan soils), transplanting agaves of different varieties and ages (1600-2500 per hectare or 650-1000 per acre), sowing pasture grasses, as well as transplanting (if not previously forested) mesquite or other nitrogen-fixing trees (400 per hectare or 135 per acre) or shrubs. Depending on the management plan, not all agaves will be planted in the same year, but ideally the system contains an equal division of 200 plants per year of each age (planted in ages 1-10) so as to stagger harvest times for the agave piñas, which are harvested at the end of the particular species 8-13 year lifespan.

Planting in turn is followed by no-till soil management (after initial subsoiling) and sowing pasture grasses and cover crops of legumes, meanwhile temporarily “resting” pasture (i.e. keeping animals out of overgrazed pastures or rangelands) long enough to allow regeneration of forage and survival of young agaves and tree seedlings. Following these initial steps of ecosystem restoration and planting agaves and establishing sufficient tree cover, which can take up to five years, the next step is carefully implementing planned rotational grazing of sheep and goats (or other livestock) across these pasturelands and rangelands, at least during the rainy season (4-6 months per year), utilizing moveable solar fencing and/or shepherds and shepherd dogs (neither overgrazing nor under-grazing); supplementing pasture forage, especially during the six-eight-month dry season, with fermented agave silage. During the dry season many families will choose to keep the breeding stock on their smaller family parcels or paddocks, feeding them fermented silage (either agave or agave/mesquite pod mix) to keep them healthy throughout the dry season, when pasture grasses are severely limited.

By implementing these restoration and agroforestry practices, farmers and ranchers can begin to regenerate dryland landscapes and improve the health and productivity of their livestock, provide affordable food for their families, improve their livelihoods, and at the same time, deliver valuable ecosystem services, reducing soil erosion, recharging water tables, and sequestering and storing large amounts of atmospheric carbon in plant biomass and soils, both aboveground and below ground.

Fermenting the Agave Leaves: A Revolutionary Innovation

The revolutionary innovation of a pioneering group of Guanajuato farmers has been to turn a heretofore indigestible, but massive and accessible source of fiber and biomass, the agave leaves or pencas, into a valuable animal feed, utilizing the natural process of anaerobic fermentation to transform the plants’ indigestible saponin and lectin compounds into digestible carbohydrates, sugar, and fiber. To do this, practitioners have developed a relatively simple machine, either stand alone or hooked up to a tractor, that can chop up the very tough pruned leaves of the agave. After chopping the agave’s leaves or pencas (into what looks like green coleslaw) producers then anaerobically ferment this wet silage (ideally along with the chopped-up protein-rich pods of the mesquite tree, or other protein sources) in a closed container, such as a 5 or 50-gallon plastic container or cubeta with a lid, removing as much oxygen as possible (by tapping it down) before closing the lid.

The fermented end-product, golden-colored after 30 days, good for 30 moths, is a nutritious but very inexpensive silage or animal fodder, that costs approximately 1.5 Mexican pesos (or 7.5 cents US) per kilogram/2.2 pounds (fermented agave alone) or three pesos (agave and mesquite pods together) per kilogram to produce. In San Miguel de Allende, the containers we use, during this initial experimental stage of the project cost $3 US per unit for a 20 liter or 5 gallon plastic container or cubeta with a lid, with a lifespan of 25 uses or more before they must be recycled. Two hundred liter reusable containers cost $60 US per unit (new, $30 used) but will last considerable longer than the 20 liter containers.

As the attached business plan for fermented agave silage indicates, harvesting and processing the pencas alone will provide significant value and profits per hectare for landowners and rural communities (such as ejidos in Mexico) who deploy the agave/agroforestry system at scale. In addition, Billion Agave Project researchers are now developing silage storage alternatives that will eliminate the necessity for the relatively expensive 20 liter or 200 liter plastic cubetas or containers.

The agave silage production system can provide the cash-strapped rancher or farmer with an alternative to having to purchase alfalfa (expensive at 20 cents US per kg and water-intensive) or hay (likewise expensive) or corn stalks (labor intensive and nutritionally-deficient), especially during the dry season.

According to Dr. Juan Frias, one of the pioneers of this process, lambs or adult sheep readily convert 10 kilos of fermented agave silage into one kilo of body weight, half of which will be marketable as meat or viscera. At 1.5 to 2 pesos per kilo (7.5-15 cents per pound), this highly nutritious silage can eventually make the difference between poverty and a decent income for literally millions of the world’s dryland small farmers and herders.

Typically, an adult sheep will consume 2-2.5 kilograms of silage every day, while a lamb of up to five months of age will consume 500-800 grams per day.  (Cattle will consume 10 times as much silage per day as sheep, approximately 20-25 kg per day.) Under the agave system for sheep and goats it costs approximately 20 pesos or one dollar a pound (live weight) to produce what is worth, at ongoing market rates for non-organic mutton or goat, 40 pesos or two dollars per pound (live weight). (Certified organic lamb, mutton, or goat will bring in 25-50 percent more). In ongoing experiments in San Miguel de Allende, pigs and chickens have remained healthy and productive with fermented agave forage providing 15% of their diet, reducing feed costs considerably.

The bountiful harvest of this regenerative, high-biomass, high carbon-sequestering system includes not only extremely low-cost, nutritious animal forage (up to 100 tons or more per hectare per year of fermented silage, starting in years three-five, averaged out over ten years), but also high-quality organic lamb, mutton, cheese, milk, aquamiel (agave sap), pulque (a mildly alcoholic beverage), inulin (a nutritional supplement), and distilled agave liquor (mescal), all produced organically with no synthetic chemicals or pesticides whatsoever, at affordable prices, with excess agave biomass fiber, and bagasse available for textiles, compost, biochar, construction materials, and bioethanol.

Regenerative Economics: The Bottom Line

In order to motivate a critical mass of impoverished farmers and ranchers struggling to make a living in the degraded drylands of Mexico, or in any of the arid and semi-arid areas in the world, to adopt this system, it is necessary to have a strong economic incentive.  There absolutely must be economic rewards, both short-term and long-term, in terms of farm income, if we expect rapid adoption of this system. Fortunately, the agave/mesquite agroforestry system provides this, starting in year three and steadily increasing each year thereafter, producing significant amounts of low-cost silage to feed livestock and a steady and growing revenue stream from selling surplus pencas, piñas, and silage from individual farm or communal lands (ejidos).

Given that most dryland farmers have little or no operating capital, there needs to be a system to provide financing (loans, grants, ecosystem credits) and technical assistance to deploy this regenerative system and maintain it over the crucial 5-10 year initiation period. Based upon a decade of implementation and experimentation, we estimate that this agave agroforestry system will cost approximately $1500 US dollars per year, per hectare to establish and maintain, averaged out over a ten-year period. See chart below. By year five, however this system should be able to pay out initial operating loans (upfront costs in years one or one through five are much higher than in successive years) and begin to generate a net profit.

The overwhelming majority of Mexican dryland farmers, as noted previously, have no wells for irrigation (86%) and make little no money (90%) from their subsistence agriculture practices (raising corn, beans, and squash and livestock). Although the majority of rural smallholders are low-income or impoverished, they do however typically own their own (family or self-built) houses and farm sheds or buildings as well as title or ownership to their own parcels of land, typically five hectares (12 acres) or less, as well as their livestock. And beyond their individual parcels, three million Mexican families are also joint owners of communal lands or ejidos, which constitute 56% of total national agricultural lands (103 million hectares or 254 million acres).  Ejidos arose out the widespread land reform and land redistribution policies following the Mexican Revolution of 1910-20. Large landholdings or haciendas were broken up and distributed to small farmers and rural village organizations, ejidos.

Unfortunately, most of the lands belonging to Mexico’s 28,000 communal landholding ejidos are arid or semi-arid with no wells or irrigation. But being an ejido member does give a family access and communal grazing (some cultivation) rights to the (typically overgrazed) ejido or village communally-owned land. Some ejidos including those in the drylands are quite large, encompassing 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) or more. In contrast to farmers in the US or the rest of the world, most of these Mexican dryland or ejido farmers have little or no debt. For many, their bank account is their livestock, which they sell as necessary to pay for out of the ordinary household and personal expenses.

As noted earlier, most Mexican farmers today subsist on the income from off-farm jobs by family members, and remittances sent home from family members working in the US or Canada. They understand first hand that climate change and degraded soils are making it nearly impossible for them to grow their traditional milpas (raising corn, beans, and squash during the rainy season) or raise healthy livestock for family consumption and sales. Most are aware that their livestock often cost them as much labor and money to raise (or more) than their value for family subsistence or their value in the marketplace.

Mexico has a total of 2400 municipios or counties located in 32 states. Across Mexico small farmers are already cultivating agave or harvesting wild agave in 1000 municipios and nine states, harvesting piñas for mescal or pulque production. Only a few these areas, however, Hacienda Zamarippa in San Luis de la Paz, Via Organica (and surrounding ejidos), a 5,000 hectare organic beef ranch called Canada de la Virgen in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and pulque producers in Coahuila and Tlaxcala are currently harvesting pencas or agave leaf to produce fermented silage for livestock. However, as the word spreads about the incredible value of pencas and the agave/mesquite agroforestry developing in the state of Guanajuato, farmers in most of the nation’s ejidos and municipios will be interested in deploying this system in their areas.

With start-up financing, operating capital, and technical assistance (much of which can be farmer-to-farmer training), a critical mass of Mexican smallholders should be able to benefit enormously from establishing this agave-based agroforestry and livestock management system on their private parcels, and benefit even more by collectively deploying this system with their other ejido members on communal lands. With the ability to generate a net income up to $6-12,000 US per year/per hectare of fermented agave silage (and lamb/sheep/livestock production) on their lands, low maintenance costs after initial deployment, and with production steadily increasing three to five years after implementation, this agave system has the potential to spread all across Mexico (and all the arid and semi-arid drylands of the world.)  As tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of small farmers and farm families start to become self-sufficient in providing up 100% of the feed and nutrition for their livestock, dryland farmers will have the opportunity to move out of poverty and regenerate household and rural community economies, restoring land fertility and essential ecosystem services at the same time.

The extraordinary characteristic of this agave agroforestry system is that it generates almost immediate rewards. Starting from seedlings or agave shoots, (hijuelos they are called) in year three in the 8-13-year life-span of these agaves, farmers can begin to prune and harvest the lower plant leaves or pencas from these agaves (pruning approximately 20% of leaf biomass every year starting in year three) and start to produce tons of nutritious fermented animal feed/silage. Individual agave leaves or pencas from a mature plant can weigh more than 20 kilos or 45 pounds each. In the areas where wild agaves are growing, (often at fairly low-density of 100-400 agaves per hectare) land managers can detach the shoots from the mother plant and transplant hijuelos, so as to achieve higher (and eventually maximum) density of agaves in the large amount of the nation’s lands where agave are growing wild.

Because the system requires no inputs or chemicals, the meat, milk, or forage produced can readily be certified organic, likely increasing its wholesale value in the marketplace. In addition, the piñas or plant stem from 2000 agave plants (one hectare) with an average piña per plant of 300-400 kg (3 pesos or 15 cents US per KG) can generate a one-time revenue of $52,500 US dollars) at the final harvest of the agave plant, when all remaining leaves and stem are harvested. But even as agaves are completely harvested at the end of their 8-13-year life span, other agave seedlings or hijuelos (shoots) of various ages which have steadily been planted alongside side them will maintain the same level of biomass and silage production. In a hectare of 2,000 agave plants, approximately 72,000 hijuelos or new baby plants (averaging 36 per mother plant) will be produced over a ten-year period. These 72,000 baby plants (ready for transplanting) have a current market value over a ten-year period of 12 Mexico pesos (60 cents US) each or $43,200 US ($4,320 US per year).

Financing the Agave-Based Agroforestry System

Although Mexico’s dryland small-holders are typically debt-free, they are cash poor. To establish and maintain this system, as the chart above indicates, they will need approximately $1500 US dollars a year per hectare ($370 per acre) for a total cost over 10 years at $15,000.  Starting in year five, each hectare should be generating $10,000 or more worth of fermented silage or foraje per year.

By year five, farmers deploying the system will be generating enough income from silage production and livestock sales to pay off the entire 10-year loan. From this point on they will become economically self-sufficient, and, in fact, will have the opportunity to become moderately prosperous. Pressure to overgraze communal lands will decrease, as will the pressure on rural people to migrate to cities or to the US and Canada. Meanwhile massive amounts of atmospheric carbon will have begun to be sequestered above ground and below ground, enabling many of Mexico’s 2400 counties (municipalidades) to eventually reach net zero carbon emissions. In addition, other ecosystem services will improve, including reduced topsoil erosion, more rainfall/water retention in soils, more soil organic matter, increased tree and shrub cover, increased biodiversity (above ground and below ground), restoration of grazing areas, and increased soil fertility.

Natural Carbon Sequestration in Regenerated Soils and Plants

Mexico, like every nation, has an obligation, under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) through converting to renewable forms of energy (especially solar and wind) and energy conservation, at the same time, drawing down excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing, through the process of enhanced forest and plant photosynthesis, this “drawdown” carbon in its biomass, roots, and soil. Agave-based agroforestry (2000 agave plants and 400 mesquite acodos per hectare) as a perennial system, over 10-15 years can store aboveground and below ground approximately 143 metric tons of carbon dioxide per hectare (58 tons of CO2 per acre) on a continuous basis. In terms of this above ground (and below ground) carbon/carbon dioxide sequestration capacity over 10-15 years (143 tons of CO2e), this system, maintained as a polyculture with continuous perennial growth, is among the most soil regenerative on earth, especially considering the fact that it can be deployed in harsh arid and semi-arid climates, on degraded land, basically overgrazed and unsuitable for growing crops, with no irrigation or chemical inputs required whatsoever. In Mexico, where 60% of all farmlands or rangelands are arid or semi-arid, this system has the capacity to sequester 100% of the nation’s current Greenhouse Gas emissions (590 million tons of CO2e) for one year if deployed on approximately 2% or 4.125 million hectares (2000 agaves and 400 mesquites) of the nation’s total lands (197 million hectares). If deployed on 41.25 million hectares, it will cancel out all of Mexico’s GHGs over the next decade. Communally-owned ejido lands in Mexico alone account for more than 100 million hectares. The largest eco-system restoration project in recent until now has been the decade-long restoration of the Loess Plateau (1.5 million hectares) in north-central China in the 1990s.

In a municipalidad or county like San Miguel de Allende, Mexico covering 1,537 Km2 (153,700 hectares) with estimated annual Greenhouse Gas emissions of 654,360 t/CO2/yr (178,300 t/C/yr) the agave/mesquite agroforestry system (sequestering 143 tons of CO2e above ground per hectare after 10 years) would need to be deployed on approximately 4,573 hectares or 3% of the total land in order to cancel out all current emissions for one year. If deployed on 45 thousand hectares it will cancel out all FHG emissions over the next decade. There are 2400 municipalidades or counties in Mexico, including 1000 that are already growing agave and harvesting the piñas for mescal.

In the watershed of Tambula Picachos in the municipality of San Miguel there are 39,022 hectares of rural land (mainly ejido land) in need of restoration (93.4% show signs of erosion, 53% with compacted soil). Deploying the agave/mesquite agroforestry on most of this degraded land 36,150 hectares (93%) would be enough to cancel out all current annual emissions in the municipality of San Miguel for one year.

The gross economic value of growing agave on this 4,573 hectares (including silage, piñas, and hijuelos) averaged out over 10 years would amount to at least $89 million dollars US per year, a tremendous boost to the economy. In comparison, San Miguel de Allende, one of the top tourist destinations in Mexico (with 1.3 visitors annually) brings in one billion dollars a year from tourism, it’s number one revenue generator.

APPENDIX

 

 

Brazil’s Agroforestry Farmers Report Many Benefits, but Challenges Remain

  • Researchers asked agroforestry and conventional smallholder farmers in São Paulo state, Brazil for their views on the benefits of agroforestry — a farming technique that combines native vegetation with fruit trees, crops and sometimes livestock — and what they see as the barriers to switching.
  • Consistent with benefits identified in past ecological studies, agroforestry farmers ranked bird abundance and soil moisture higher than conventional farmers and reported that trees on their farms cooled the air and reduced storm damage. These farmers were also more likely to be self-sufficient.
  • Many smallholders who still rely on conventional crop and cattle monocultures say a lack of knowledge is holding them back from switching over to agroforestry, but technical support and environmental education could encourage them to adopt this restorative approach.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s laser focus on offering support for large-scale commercial agribusiness has left smallholder farmers lacking in financial and technical assistance to make the switch to agroforestry. 
KEEP READING ON “MONGABAY”

Agroforestry, Poultry Litter, and Soil Health

Agroforestry—the intentional management of trees along with pasture or crops—could be an important avenue for farmers to sequester additional carbon and make use of land unsuited for conventional crop production. Between widely spaced trees, producers can plant forages, which means feed for livestock and shortterm income while the trees grow. Before long, the innovative farmer could harvest lumber, nuts, or fruit from those trees. It creates multiple revenue streams on one piece of land while increasing biodiversity and sustainability.
But how do you manage those trees? How are they impacting soil health? These are the questions that researchers in Fayetteville, AR seek to answer. Back in 1999, a combination of industry members, university researchers, and USDA-ARS scientists joined forces to create a longterm agroforestry site near the University of Arkansas. Now, researchers are reaping the rewards of two decades of hard work as they see how tree species and management regimes impacted soil health.

KEEP READING ON “CSA NEWS”

USDA To Conduct First-Ever National Agroforestry Survey

Starting next week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) will conduct the first-ever National Agroforestry Survey. Data collection begins Feb. 1 and concludes April 5, 2022. The survey will be sent to 11,100 farmers and ranchers nationwide to gather information on the five agroforestry practices used for climate, conservation and production benefits, including windbreaks, silvopasture, riparian forest buffers, alley cropping as well as forest farming and multi-story cropping.

“For the first time ever, ag producers have the opportunity to share the dynamic ways they manage valuable agroforestry resources,” said NASS Agricultural Statistics Board Chair Joe Parsons. “The results of this survey could catalyze important change by helping policymakers and farm groups more fully understand and support this aspect of agriculture in the 21st century. The data will inform programs and policy to benefit both the landowners and farmers as well as the environment.”

“KEEP READING ON NASS USDA”

México diseña un método revolucionario para revertir la degradación de las tierras semiáridas

  • La degradación de la tierra está afectando a las tierras agrícolas de todo el mundo, afectando a casi el 40% de la población mundial. Revertir ese proceso y restaurar estas tierras de cultivo y pastos para que alcancen un nivel de productividad máximo es un gran desafío al que se enfrenta la humanidad, especialmente a medida que la sequía inducida por el cambio climático se apodera de más tierras áridas y semiáridas.
  • En México, un agricultor ideó una solución innovadora nunca antes probada que no sólo restablece la productividad de la tierra degradada, sino que también mejora en gran medida el almacenamiento de carbono en el suelo, da visibilidad a un cultivo muy valioso e incluso ofrece una esperanzadora opción de alimento para diabéticos.
  • El proceso utiliza dos plantas muy comunes en estas tierras semiáridas y que crecen bien en condiciones de sequía, el agave y el mezquite. Ambos se siembran de manera intercalada y luego el agave se fermenta y se mezcla con el mezquite para producir un forraje excelente, económico y muy comercializable para los animales de pastoreo.
  • Esta nueva técnica está teniendo éxito en México y podría aplicarse a todas las tierras degradadas del mundo. Es, dice un experto, “uno de los programas de regeneración de suelos más grandes de la Tierra … implementado en tierras degradadas, básicamente sobre pastoreadas e inadecuadas para el cultivo, sin necesidad de irrigación o insumos químicos”.

 

La degradación de la tierra es reconocida como uno de los problemas ambientales más devastadores del mundo, con aproximadamente una cuarta parte de la superficie terrestre total del mundo ya degradada, según el Fondo para el Medio Ambiente Mundial (FMAM). Este cambio adverso en el uso de la tierra ha dañado seriamente los medios de vida de más de 3.000 millones de personas, casi el 40% de la población mundial, al mismo tiempo que exacerba el cambio climático debido a la liberación de carbono secuestrado en el suelo por mucho tiempo y óxido nitroso, un poderoso gas de efecto invernadero, a la atmósfera.

El futuro pinta aún peor. Los científicos advierten que cada año se pierden 24.000 millones de toneladas de suelo fértil, en gran parte debido a las prácticas agrícolas insostenibles. Si esta tendencia continúa, dicen, el 95% de la superficie terrestre de la Tierra podría degradarse para 2050, una situación peligrosamente insostenible.

Sin embargo, existen soluciones prácticas, según Gary Nabhan, profesor de la Universidad de Arizona y uno de los principales expertos mundiales en agricultura en tierras áridas. “Durante los últimos 50 años, la mayoría de los proyectos de desarrollo rural verticalistas han fracasado terriblemente”, explica. “Pero hay personas que están probando nuevas ideas al margen de la agricultura convencional y es de allí donde provienen todas las innovaciones duraderas en la agricultura. Tenemos que escucharlos ”.

Una mujer cuidando una planta de agave en las tierras degradadas de México. Cuando el agave alcanza este tamaño, las plantas requieren mantenimiento. La mujer está podando pencas viejas y dañadas, quitando la “descendencia”, para que la planta madre conserve energía. Luego planta los hijuelos en otro lugar. Imagen cortesía de Alejandro Vasconcelos.

 

La necesidad es la madre de la invención

Una de esas soluciones está surgiendo en el estado de Guanajuato, en el centro de México. Ciertamente se necesitan nuevas ideas en esta nación latinoamericana que enfrenta una severa sequía inducida por el cambio climático, que actualmente afecta al 85% del país. En las últimas semanas, las lluvias trajeron algo de alivio a Guanajuato, aunque muchas otras partes del país siguen resecas.

Pero incluso cuando las precipitaciones finalmente se extienden al resto de México, las perspectivas para los agricultores no son buenas. Según Rafael Sánchez, experto en agua de la Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo, los acuíferos están completamente agotados. “No tengo ninguna duda de que en 2022 habrá una crisis, una gran crisis”, advirtió, anticipándose al malestar social.

Los más afectados por las sequías en México son las familias campesinas, muchas de las cuales trabajan en tierras comunales, conocidas como ejidos. La mayoría de los ejidos ya son económicamente inviables y, para algunos, una mayor sequía podría ser, paradójicamente, la gota que haga colmar el vaso.

Cada vez más agricultores podrían verse obligados a abandonar sus tierras, y los hombres emprenderán el peligroso viaje hacia el norte hasta la frontera estadounidense ahora cerrada con la esperanza de ganar dinero en efectivo para enviar a casa, mientras que las mujeres, los ancianos y los niños sobreviven en granjas arruinadas. Sin las remesas de la familia en los EE. UU., muchas de estas granjas habrían desaparecido hace mucho tiempo.

A principios de este año, miembros de la comunidad del Ejido Los Toriles pasaron un día en La Huizachada, el ejido de Doña Juana (vestida de rosa), para asistir a un taller sobre “La prevención, detección y tratamiento de plagas y enfermedades del agave”. El evento fue organizado por un grupo comunitario, Somos Mezcaleros, y dirigido por el agricultor y agrónomo Alejandro Vasconcelos. Imagen cortesía de Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Ahora, una nueva iniciativa ofrece una solución para estas familias. Es una iniciativa no de una empresa de alta tecnología o del gobierno, sino de un agricultor local, José Flores González, quien, con sus dos hermanos, maneja una finca en el municipio de Luis de La Paz, que limita con San Miguel de Allende. Su finca una vez cubrió 1.000 hectáreas (alrededor de 2.500 acres), pero poco a poco la familia se vio obligada a vender parcelas, hasta que se quedaron con una décima parte de su tamaño original.

Como tantos otros, los tres hermanos buscaron empleo fuera de su granja. Flores González estudió ingeniería mecánica y se convirtió en profesor en una universidad local.

Con el paso de los años, la situación de degradación de la tierra y sequía en la vasta región semiárida empeoró. Con pocas opciones, las familias pastorearon en exceso sus pastos, tratando de exprimir el sustento de subsistencia que podían, agotando aún más la tierra. Francisco Peyret, director de medio ambiente y sustentabilidad del municipio de San Miguel de Allende, dice que la magnitud del desastre es evidente para todos: “Algunas de las áreas por aquí parecen ser de Marte. Realmente no tienen suelo “.

Creciendo por todas partes: “el forraje más barato del mundo”

Flores González era consciente de  los apremios económicos en los  que se encontraba no solo su familia sino también sus vecinos. Pero no se desesperó. En cambio, trabajó para sacar provecho de su formación académica y aprovechar los peculiares hábitos de crecimiento de las pocas plantas resistentes que florecen en las tierras secas y degradadas de la región. Finalmente, encontró una manera de restaurar el ecosistema y potencialmente reactivar la economía de la comunidad agrícola campesina.

Ronnie Cummins, fundador de la Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos, que  vive parte del año en San Miguel de Allende trabajando con Vía Orgánica, integrante de la ONG Regeneration International, recuerda su repentina emoción cuando se dio cuenta de lo que Flores González había imaginado.

“Estábamos impartiendo un taller sobre composta” en 2019, recuerda Cummins. “Se me acercó un científico, Juan Frías, y me dijo que tres hermanos habían desarrollado un nuevo y revolucionario sistema de cultivo intercalado de agave con árboles de mezquite para producir “el forraje más barato del mundo’, que también era capaz de secuestrar “carbono del aire.” Parecía casi demasiado bueno para ser verdad, pero Flores González había descubierto algo bastante nuevo.

Ronnie Cummins frente a las plantas de agave que su organización, Vía Orgánica, parte de Regeneration International, está animando a los campesinos a cultivar. Imagen cortesía de Vía Orgánica.

 

El agave y el mezquite son plantas nativas muy comunes en las tierras semiáridas de México. Las poblaciones indígenas han usado el agave tal vez durante milenios, convirtiéndolo en bebidas alcohólicas como el tequila, el pulque y el mezcal. Las vainas de mezquite se han utilizado tradicionalmente para hacer atole, una bebida popular durante las festividades del Día de Muertos en México.

Las dos plantas sobreviven en el desierto de formas muy diferentes. Los agaves, conocidos como maguey en México, tienen sistemas radiculares poco profundos y extraen la humedad directamente del aire, almacenándola en sus hojas gruesas y espinosas, conocidas como pencas. A diferencia de muchas plantas, absorben la mayor parte del dióxido de carbono por la noche. Esto significa que se evapora mucha menos agua de las hojas a través de la transpiración, lo que permite que la planta produzca cantidades significativas de biomasa, incluso en condiciones donde la disponibilidad de agua es severamente restringida y de sequía prolongada.

Por el contrario, los mezquites, el nombre común de varias plantas del género Prosopis, tienen raíces extremadamente largas y buscan agua en las profundidades del subsuelo. Como leguminosa, son una de las pocas plantas en el desierto que capturan nitrógeno del aire y, como resultado, mejoran la fertilidad del suelo.

Los agaves contienen saponinas y lectinas altamente indigeribles, un recurso de la naturaleza para proteger las plantas de los depredadores, por lo que los agricultores nunca han podido lograr que sus animales se coman fácilmente las pencas. En el mejor de los casos, las secan, de manera que pierden todos los valiosos nutrientes que se encuentran en el líquido de sus hojas, y luego mezclan la materia vegetal restante con otros forrajes.

Murales de temática agrícola en la pared  de Vía Orgánica en San Miguel de Allende, México. Imágenes cortesía de Vía Orgánica.

 

Una semana después de conocer a Frías, Cummins y otras personas de Vía Orgánica vieron a un grupo de ovejas y cabras devorar pencas y vainas de mezquite en la finca de Flores González. “Se lo comían como si fuera un caramelo. ¡Fue increíble!” exclama.

Cuando más tarde visitó la granja, Nabhan estaba igualmente asombrado. Recuerda: “antes de que pudieran abrir las puertas, los perros pastores entraron corriendo e [incluso ellos] empezaron a comer el agave fermentado y el mezquite y, una vez que las puertas se abrieron, hubo un frenesí alimenticio. ¡Al ganado le encantó! “

La explicación del extraordinario cambio en la conducta alimentaria es el uso, de nuevo, de un proceso casi tan antiguo como la agricultura. Flores González había descubierto que la fermentación podía convertir las pencas de agave en un forraje digerible. “Pican finamente las pencas y las ponen en recipientes herméticos durante un mes o mes y medio. Las pencas fermentan y se vuelven digeribles ”, explica Cummins. “Estos agricultores habían descubierto algo que nadie más había hecho, ni siquiera los indígenas”.

El método de Flores González, que él llama Sistema Agroforestal Zamarripa, intercala agave con mezquite. Cummins dice que las dos plantas crecen bien juntas: “El mezquite, u otros árboles fijadores de nitrógeno como el huizache o la acacia, fijan el nitrógeno y los nutrientes en el suelo y el agave los utiliza para crecer y producir cantidades significativas de forraje animal.”

Las plantas ni siquiera necesitan riego, y esto es una enorme ventaja. Guanajuato solo recibe 500 milímetros (20 pulgadas) de precipitación en una “temporada de lluvias” promedio de julio a octubre. A eso le siguen ocho meses con poca o ninguna lluvia. La mayoría de los agricultores se las arreglan con la lluvia que pueden recolectar y almacenar.

El abundante suministro de ingredientes básicos y la simplicidad del nuevo proceso hacen que el forraje sea extremadamente barato, con un costo de producción de solo 5 centavos de dólar por kilogramo (alrededor de 2 centavos por libra), mucho más barato que la alfalfa o el heno que los agricultores suelen utilizar como forraje. Es importante destacar que el proceso de agave-mezquite es un gran paso para hacer viable nuevamente la agricultura campesina a pequeña escala en el México semiárido. Y como beneficio adicional, podría reducir el éxodo de refugiados climáticos que llegan a Estados Unidos.

José Flores González y su familia junto a una planta de agave. Imagen cortesía de José Flores González

En 2019 y 2020, miembros de la comunidad del Ejido Los Toriles, con la ayuda de un especialista en comunidades, manejo, recuperación de suelos y reforestación, construyeron barreras de piedra, conocidas como gaviones. Estas barreras detendrán la escorrentía de la cuenca después de las fuertes lluvias, lo que permitirá que la tierra y la vegetación comiencen a acumularse en el gavión, lo que resultará en la recuperación del suelo. Como muestra la foto, los agaves también se plantan en lugares estratégicos para fijar el suelo en su lugar con mayor firmeza. Imagen cortesía de Alejandro Vasconcelos.

 

Resistencia local a lo nuevo, luego aceptación lenta

Aún así, a Flores González no le ha resultado fácil lograr que los agricultores tradicionales acepten su innovación. “Hemos estado promoviendo enérgicamente la idea durante cuatro años pero, lamentablemente, sin mucho éxito”, lamenta.

Ercila Sahores, directora para América Latina de Regeneration International , admite que es difícil superar actitudes arraigadas: “Los campesinos han creído durante siglos que el agave no es digerible”.

Además, el control comunitario de la tierra hace que este proceso deva hacerse con tiempo: “Muchos campesinos trabajan en tierras colectivas, donde el cambio tiene que introducirse por consenso y esto lleva tiempo”, dice Sahores.

Quizás el mayor problema de todos es que gran parte de la tierra local está ahora tan degradada que la reforestación, incluso con agave y mezquite, es un proceso lento y tedioso.

Sin embargo, en los últimos dos años, gracias a la creciente participación de Vía Orgánica, otras ONG y el gobierno municipal de San Miguel de Allende, la implementación de este sistema ya es una realidad.

Campesinos, principalmente mujeres, cuidando el agave. Con la escalada de la crisis económica rural en pleno apogeo, muchos hombres no tienen más remedio que emigrar a los Estados Unidos, donde esperan poder encontrar trabajo y enviar dinero a sus familias. Muchas mujeres se quedan a cargo de las granjas, con la ayuda de ancianos y niños. Imagen cortesía de Alejandro Vasconcelos.

 

“Nosotros, el gobierno municipal, trabajamos con las comunidades”, explica Peyret. “Vamos a los ejidos y ellos deciden lo que quieren restaurar. Hace mucho que son conscientes de la urgente necesidad de restaurar la tierra, pero por sí solos no han tenido los recursos para llevar a cabo este trabajo “.

Una vez que los campesinos deciden en comunidad en qué área trabajar, se comprometen a no pastorear a sus animales allí durante varios años. Peyret continúa: “El agave es una de las primeras cosas que plantamos. Se siente cómodo en los peores lugares y en las peores condiciones, incluso en una fuerte sequía, como hemos tenido este año. Incluso si lo plantas sobre una roca donde casi no hay suelo, crecerá con mucha más fuerza que en una tierra cultivable en un área plana. De hecho, la gente dice ‘haz sufrir al agave’ porque tendrás un mejor resultado “.

El gobierno brinda incentivos a los campesinos: trabajos temporales, la posibilidad de reconstruir sus huertas, la donación de plantas y árboles nativos, incluido el agave, y la construcción de sistemas de captación de agua.

Los campesinos también están interesados ​​en cultivar agave, aunque muchos de ellos aún se muestren escépticos sobre el nuevo proceso de fermentación, porque saben que, después de una década más o menos de cultivarlo, podrán producir pulque, una bebida fermentada tradicional elaborada fermentando la savia de agave, conocida como aguamiel. Mucho antes de eso, pueden comenzar a experimentar con el proceso de fermentación. La aceptación ahora se está extendiendo.

Recipientes utilizados para fermentar el agave en la finca ecológica Cañada de la Virgen. Imagen cortesía de Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Expansión de la producción de forraje de agave y mezquite

Una red de ONGs, coordinada por el gobierno municipal, ha organizado el Plan de Acción Climática. Juntos, están combatiendo la erosión del suelo y promoviendo el Sistema Agroforestal Zamarripa. Peyret estima que los agricultores comunitarios ya han restaurado unas 1.500 hectáreas (3.700 acres). Pero eso es solo el comienzo.

Alejandro Vasconcelos, agricultor recibido en agricultura sostenible y ecológica, se ha convertido en capacitador del programa. “He capacitado a más de 400 agricultores del estado de Guanajuato y otros 100 de otros estados. La gran mayoría son muy pobres y no tienen acceso al riego”. Está muy entusiasmado: “La fermentación produce forrajes que cuestan solo 1 peso mexicano el kilo. Y, una vez que los agricultores se dan cuenta de que pueden engordar su ganado de una manera tan barata, aceptan totalmente la tecnología”.

Cummins está de acuerdo. “Nuestro centro recibió la visita de 30 agricultores de Tlaxcala [otro estado del centro de México]. Tan pronto como vieron a los animales comerse las pencas picadas, fue como si se hubiera encendido una bombilla. Al día siguiente ordenaron cinco máquinas [de fermentación] [de Flores González]. Cuando se dieron cuenta de que iba a haber un retraso, encargaron otra máquina a la industria del tequila y le modificaron las cuchillas [para usarla con el agave]. Luego comenzaron a darles forraje a sus burros, ovejas y cabras, y tuvieron mucho éxito”.

Alejandro Vasconcelos con sus hijos. Vasconcelos ha jugado un papel clave en la promoción del sistema de fermentación del agave. Imagen vía Facebook.

Participantes de un curso de “Introducción al Agave” realizado en el estado de Guanajuato, y que incluye a la comunidad de San Miguel de Allende. Solo tres o cuatro participantes provienen de la misma comunidad, por lo que los agricultores pueden regresar a casa y enseñar a sus vecinos. Los agricultores escuchan sobre los orígenes del agave y son capacitados para aumentar sus ingresos provenientes del cultivo del agave, con todas las técnicas basadas en una forma de policultivo ecológico. Imagen cortesía de Alejandro Vasconcelos.

 

Vía Orgánica espera que los agricultores puedan diversificarse a largo plazo. “La carne de animales alimentados con las pencas puede certificarse como orgánica y biodinámica”, explica Cummins. “El cordero orgánico puede alcanzar un precio elevado. Y luego está el colágeno, el caldo de huesos, etc. ” Un futuro brillante se avecina, si la iniciativa puede establecerse en esta tierra completamente seca.

Este esfuerzo trae otros beneficios significativos a los agricultores, aunque no conlleven rendimientos económicos inmediatos. Una ventaja es la capacidad del agave para secuestrar carbono. Según Cummins, la agrosilvicultura basada en agave, con 2.000 agaves por hectárea, puede almacenar alrededor de 73,6 toneladas de carbono en la superficie del suelo durante un período de 10 años, sin contar el carbono almacenado por árboles o arbustos acompañantes como mezquites y acacias.

Ha hecho otros cálculos interesantes y de gran alcance: “Este sistema tiene la capacidad de secuestrar el 100% de las emisiones actuales [anuales] de gases de efecto invernadero de México (590 millones de toneladas de CO2) si se implementa en aproximadamente 1,1% o 2,2 millones de hectáreas (5,4 millones acres) de la masa terrestre total de la nación”. Es, dice, “uno de los programas de suelo más regenerativos en la Tierra, especialmente considerando el hecho de que se puede implementar en tierras degradadas, básicamente sobrepastoreadas e inadecuadas para cultivos, sin necesidad de irrigación o insumos químicos”.

Nabhan señala otro beneficio. “México tiene ahora la tasa más alta de diabetes de aparición tardía de todos los países del mundo, y la obesidad infantil alcanzará tasas aún más altas en el futuro”, dice. El agave y el mezquite podrían ser parte de la solución. Contienen una sustancia química llamada inulina, que promueve la salud digestiva al tratarse de un prebiótico que ayuda a las bacterias intestinales buenas, dice.

“No solo tiene un alimento para animales barato y nutritivo, sino también una forma de combatir la diabetes”, concluye Nabhan. Esto podría ahorrarle millones de dólares al servicio de salud de México, dice.

Nabhan señala que la agricultura campesina en México ha estado en declive durante más de medio siglo. “Ver la posibilidad de renovación es casi como un milagro”, exclama.

El potencial es tan grande para el proceso de fermentación de agave-mezquite que ya se está implementando en otra región y nación azotada por la sequía: justo al norte de la frontera entre México y los EE. UU., en el estado de Arizona. Pero Nabhan piensa que el proyecto avanzará más rápidamente en México: “Si la necesidad y el hambre agudizan el ingenio, la presión sobre Ronnie y el Sistema Agroforestal de Agave Zamarripa rema a su favor. Las personas necesitan una alternativa porque no pueden cultivar o criar ganado como lo hacían en el pasado. Lo que proponen es realmente una de las únicas formas de salir de esta encrucijada”.

Cummins cree que el Sistema Agroforestal Zamarripa de Flores González podría aplicarse en muchas otras partes del mundo. “Creemos que la agrosilvicultura está a la vanguardia de la regeneración agrícola. Aproximadamente el 40% del terreno del mundo es árido o semiárido y en la mitad de estas áreas ya están creciendo diferentes variedades de agave y árboles nativos fijadores de nitrógeno. Las posibilidades son inmensas “. Las opciones para combatir la degradación del suelo son escasas, así que muchos agricultores y naciones seguirán el experimento de Guanajuato con gran interés.

Cummins cree que el Sistema Agroforestal Zamarripa de Flores González podría aplicarse en otras partes del mundo y que la agrosilvicultura está a la vanguardia de la regeneración agrícola.

Publicado y traducido con permiso de Mongabay

Mexico Devises Revolutionary Method to Reverse Semiarid Land Degradation

  • Land degradation is impacting farmlands worldwide, affecting almost 40% of the world’s population. Reversing that process and restoring these croplands and pastures to full productivity is a huge challenge facing humanity — especially as climate change-induced drought takes greater hold on arid and semiarid lands.
  • In Mexico, a university-educated, small-scale peasant farmer came up with an untried innovative solution that not only restores degraded land to productivity, but also greatly enhances soil carbon storage, provides a valuable new crop, and even offers a hopeful diet for diabetics.
  • The process utilizes two plants commonly found on semiarid lands that grow well under drought conditions: agave and mesquite. The two are intercropped and then the agave is fermented and mixed with the mesquite to produce an excellent, inexpensive, and very marketable fodder for grazing animals.
  • The new technique is achieving success in Mexico and could be applied to global degraded lands. It is, says one expert “among the most soil regenerative schemes on Earth … deployed on degraded land, basically overgrazed and unsuitable for growing crops, with no irrigation or chemical inputs required whatsoever.”

Land degradation is recognized as one of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, with about a quarter of the world’s total land area already degraded, according to the Global Environment Facility (GEF). This adverse land use change has seriously harmed the livelihoods of more than 3 billion people, almost 40% of the world’s population, while exacerbating climate change due to the release of long-sequestered soil carbon and nitrous oxide — a powerful greenhouse gas — into the atmosphere.

Worse may lie ahead. Scientists warn that 24 billion tons of fertile soil are being lost each year, largely due to unsustainable agriculture practices. If this trend continues, they say, 95% of Earth’s land area could be degraded by 2050 — a dangerously unsustainable situation.

However, practical solutions exist, according to Gary Nabhan, a professor at the University of Arizona and one of the world’s leading experts on farming on arid land. “Over the last 50 years, most top-down rural development projects, have failed terribly,” he explains. “But there are guys trying out new ideas at the margins of conventional agriculture, which is where all lasting innovations in agriculture come from. We have to listen to them.”

A woman tending to an agave plant on Mexico’s degraded lands. When agave grows to this size, the plants require maintenance. The woman is pruning old and damaged pencas, removing “offspring,” so that the mother plant will conserve energy. she then plants the seedlings elsewhere. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Troubled times are the mother of invention

One such solution is emerging in Guanajuato state in central Mexico. New ideas are certainly needed in this Latin American nation as it faces climate change-induced severe drought, which is currently affecting 85% of the country. In recent weeks, the rains brought some relief to Guanajuato, though many other parts of the country remain parched.

But even when precipitation eventually does spread to the rest of Mexico, prospects for small-scale farmers are not good. According to Rafael Sánchez, a water expert at the Autonomous University of Chapingo, aquifers are completely depleted. “I have no doubt that in 2022 there will be a crisis, a great crisis,” he warned, anticipating social unrest.

Worst hit by Mexico’s deepening droughts are peasant farm families, many of them working on communal land, known as ejidos. Most ejidos are already economically unviable, and for some, further drought could be the final straw.

More and more farmers could be forced to leave their land, with the men undertaking the dangerous journey north to the now-closed U.S. border in the hopes of earning cash to send home, while women, old people and children struggle on with failing farms. Without remittances from family in the U.S., many of these farms would have gone bankrupt long ago.

Earlier this year, Ejido Los Toriles community members spent a day in La Huizachada, the ejido belonging to Doña Juana (dressed in pink), to attend a workshop on “The prevention, detection and treatment of agave pests and diseases.” The event was set up by a community group, Somos Mezcaleros, and led by farmer and agronomist Alejandro Vasconcelos. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Now a new initiative offers a way forward to these families. It is the brainchild not of a high-tech company or government, but of a local farmer, José Flores Gonzalez, who, with his two brothers, runs a farm in the municipality of Luis de La Paz, which borders San Miguel de Allende. Their farm once covered 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres), but little by little the family was forced to sell parcels, until they were left with a tenth of its original size.

Like so many others, the three brothers sought employment away from their farm. Flores Gonzalez studied mechanical engineering and became a lecturer at a local university.

As the years passed, the land degradation and drought situation in the vast semiarid region worsened. With few options, families overgrazed their pastures, trying to squeeze out what subsistence livelihood they could — wearing out the land even more. Francisco Peyret, the San Miguel de Allende municipality environment and sustainability director, says the scale of the calamity is evident to everyone: “Some of the areas around here look as if they’re on Mars. They really have no soil.”

Growing all around: ‘The world’s cheapest fodder’

Flores Gonzalez lamented a predicament that had become desperate not only for his family but his neighbors. But he didn’t despair. Instead, he worked to take advantage of his academic training and harness the peculiar growing habits of the few hardy plants that flourish on the region’s dry, degraded lands. Eventually he found a way to restore the ecosystem and potentially revive the peasant farm community economy.

Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association — who today spends most of the year in San Miguel de Allende working with Via Orgânica, the Mexican branch of the NGO Regeneration International — remembers his sudden excitement when he realized what Flores Gonzalez had envisioned.

“We were teaching a workshop on compost” in 2019, Cummins recalls. “Afterwards a scientist, Juan Frias, came up to me and told me that three brothers had developed a revolutionary new system of intercropping agave with mesquite trees to produce ‘the world’s cheapest fodder,’” which was also able to sequester “carbon from the air.” It seemed almost too good to be true, but Flores Gonzalez had discovered something quite new.

Ronnie Cummins standing in front of agave plants that his organization, Via Orgânica, the Mexican branch of Regeneration International, is encouraging peasant farmers to grow. Image courtesy of Via Orgânica.

Agave and mesquite are both common native plants to Mexico’s semiarid lands. Indigenous populations have used agave maybe for millennia, making alcoholic beverages out of it, such as tequila, pulque and mescal. Mesquite pods have traditionally been used to make atole, a beverage popular during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities.

The two plants survive in the desert in very different ways. Agaves, known as maguey in Mexico, have shallow root systems and draw moisture directly from the air, storing it in their thick, thorny leaves, known as pencas. Unlike a lot of plants, they absorb most of their carbon dioxide at night. This means that far less water evaporates off the leaves through transpiration, allowing the plant to produce significant amounts of biomass, even under conditions of severely restricted water availability and prolonged drought.

In contrast, mesquites, the common name for several plants in the genus Prosopis, have extremely long roots and seek water deep underground. As a legume, they are one of the few plants in the desert to capture nitrogen from the air, and are able as a result to replenish soil fertility.

Agaves contain highly indigestible saponins and lectins, developed by nature to protect the plants from predators, so farmers have never been able to get their animals to readily eat the pencas. At best, they have dried them, thus losing all the precious nutrients contained in the liquid in their leaves, and then mixed the remaining plant matter with other fodder.

Agricultural murals on the wall in Via Orgânica’s headquarters in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Images courtesy of Via Orgânica.

A week after meeting Frias, Cummins and others from Via Orgânica watched a group of sheep and goats gobbling down pencas and mesquite pods at Flores Gonzalez’ farm. “They were eating it like it was candy. It was amazing!” he exclaims.

When he later visited the farm, Nabhan was just as stunned. He remembers: “Before they could even open the gates, the sheep dogs ran in and [even they] started eating the fermented agave and mesquite and, once the gates were open, there was a feeding frenzy. The livestock loved it so much!”

The explanation for the extraordinary change in eating behavior is a new use for a process nearly as ancient as agriculture. Flores Gonzalez had discovered that fermentation could turn the agave pencas into a digestible fodder. “They chop up the pencas finely and put them in sealed-up containers for a month or a month and a half. The pencas ferment and become digestible,” Cummins explains. “These farmers had figured out something that no one else had ever done, including the Indigenous.”

Flores Gonzalez’ method, which he calls the Agroforestry Zamarripa System, intercrops agave with mesquite. Cummins says the two plants grow well together: “The mesquite, or other nitrogen-fixing trees such as huizache or acacia, fix the nitrogen and nutrients into the soil and the agave draws upon them in order to grow and produce significant amounts of animal forage.”

The plants don’t even need to be irrigated, an enormous advantage. Guanajuato only gets 500 millimeters (20 inches) of precipitation in an average July-October “rainy season.” That’s followed by eight months with little or no rain. Most farmers make do with the rain they can collect and store.

The plentiful supply of basic ingredients and the simplicity of the new process makes the fodder extremely cheap, costing just 5 U.S. cents per kilogram to produce (about 2 cents per pound), far cheaper than the alfalfa or hay farmers often use for forage. Importantly, the agave-mesquite process is a big step toward making small-scale peasant farming viable again in semiarid Mexico. And as a bonus, it could reduce the exodus of climate refugees streaming to the U.S.

José Flores González next to an agave plant with his family. Image courtesy of José Flores González.
In 2019 and 2020, members of the Ejido Los Toriles community — aided by a community, management, soil recovery and reforestation specialist — built stone barriers, known as gaviones. These barriers will stem runoff from the watershed after heavy rain, allowing earth and vegetation to start accumulating in the gavion, resulting in soil recuperation. As the photo shows, agaves are also planted in strategic places to fix the soil in place more firmly. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Local resistance to the new, then slow acceptance

Still, Flores Gonzalez has not found it easy to get traditional farmers to accept his innovation. “We’ve been energetically promoting the idea for four years but, unfortunately, without great success,” he laments.

Ercila Sahores, Latin American director for Via Orgánica, admits it’s hard to overcome entrenched attitudes: “Peasant farmers have believed for centuries that agave isn’t digestible.”

Also, the local pattern of land ownership doesn’t facilitate change: “Many peasants work on collective lands, where change has to be introduced through consensus and this takes time,” Sahores says.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that much of the local land is now so degraded that reforestation, even with agave and mesquite, is a slow, tortuous process.

However, over the last two years, with the growing involvement of Via Orgânica, other NGOs, and the San Miguel de Allende municipal government, implementation is happening.#

Peasant farmers, mainly women, tending the agave. With the escalating rural economic crisis in full swing, many men have little choice but to migrate to the U.S. where they hope they can find work and send money to their families. Many women are left to run the farms, with the aid of old people and children. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

“We, the municipal government, work with communities,” Peyret explains. “We go into the ejidos, and they decide what they want to restore. They have long been aware of the urgent need to restore the land, but alone they haven’t had the resources to attempt this work.”

Once the peasant farmers communally decide which area to work on, they then commit to not grazing their animals there for several years. Peyret continues: “Agave is one of the first things we plant. It feels comfortable in the worst places and in the worst conditions, even in a bad drought, as we have had this year. If you place it on a rock where there is almost no soil, it will grow much more strongly than on arable land in a flat area. Indeed, people say ‘Make agave suffer’ for you will have a better outcome.”

The government provides the peasant farmers with enticements: temporary jobs, the chance to rebuild their vegetable gardens, the donation of native plants and trees, including agave, and the construction of water catchment systems.

The peasant farmers are also keen to grow agave, even if many of them remain skeptical of the new fermentation process, because they know that, after a decade or so of growing it, they’ll be able to produce pulque, a traditional fermented drink made by fermenting agave sap, known as aguamiel. Well before that, they can begin to experiment with the fermentation process. Acceptance is now growing.

Containers used to ferment the agave at the Cañada de la Virgen organic farm. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Expanding agave–mesquite fodder production

A network of NGOs, coordinated by the municipal government, has now organized the Climate Action Plan. Together, they’re combating soil erosion and promoting the Agroforestry Zamarripa System. Peyret estimates that community farmers have already restored some 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres). But that’s just a start.

One small-scale farmer, Alejandro Vasconcelos, who holds a degree in sustainable and ecological agriculture, has become a program trainer. “I have trained over 400 farmers from Guanajuato state and another 100 from other states. The vast majority are very poor with no access to irrigation.” He is very enthusiastic: “The fermentation produces fodder that costs just 1 Mexican peso per kilo. And, once the farmers realize that they can fatten their cattle in such a cheap way, they totally accept the technology.”

Cummins agrees. “Our center received the visit of 30 farmers from Tlaxcala [another central Mexican state]. As soon as they saw animals eating the chopped-up pencas, it was as if a lightbulb had been turned on. The next day they ordered five [fermentation] machines [from Flores Gonzalez]. When they realized there was going to be a delay, they ordered another machine from the tequila industry and modified the blades [for use with agave]. Then they started giving the fodder to their donkeys, sheep and goats. With great success.”

Alejandro Vasconcelos with his children. Vasconcelos has played a key role in promoting the agave fermentation system. Image via Facebook.
Participants in an “Introduction to Agave” course carried out in Guanajuato state, and including the community of San Miguel de Allende. Only three or four participants come from the same community, so the famers can go back home and teach their neighbors. The farmers hear about the origins of agave and are trained in ways they can increase their income from agave farming, with all the techniques based on an eco-friendly, polyculture way of organic farming. Image courtesy of Alejandro Vasconcelos.

Via Orgânica expects that farmers can branch out over the long term. “Meat from animals reared on the pencas can be certified as organic and biodynamic,” Cummins explains. “Organic lamb can command a high price. And then there’s collagen, bone broth, and so on.” A bright future beckons, if the initiative can become established in this bone-dry land.

The effort brings other significant benefits, though not ones that bring such quick returns to farmers. One bonus is agave’s capacity to sequester carbon. According to Cummins, agave-based agroforestry, with 2,000 agaves per hectare, can store about 73.6 tons of carbon aboveground over a 10-year period, not counting the carbon stored by companion trees or shrubs such as mesquites and acacias.

He has made other exciting, far-reaching calculations: “This system has the capacity to sequester 100% of Mexico’s current [annual] greenhouse gas emissions (590 million tons of CO2) if deployed on approximately 1.1% or 2.2 million hectares (5.4 million acres) of the nation’s total land mass.” It is, he says, “among the most soil regenerative schemes on Earth, especially considering the fact that it can be deployed on degraded land, basically overgrazed and unsuitable for growing crops, with no irrigation or chemical inputs required whatsoever.”

Nabhan points up another benefit. “Mexico now has the highest rate of late onset diabetes of any country in the world, and childhood obesity will mean even higher rates in the future,” he says. Agave and mesquite could be part of the solution. They contain a chemical called inulin, which promotes digestive health by serving as a prebiotic that aids good gut bacteria, he says.

“You not only have a cheap and nutritious animal food, but also a way of tackling diabetes,” concludes Nabhan. This could save Mexico’s health service millions of dollars, he says.

Nabhan notes that peasant farming in Mexico has been in decline for more than a half century. “To see the chance of renewal is almost like a miracle,” he exclaims.

The potential is so great for the agave-mesquite fermentation process that it is already being transplanted into another region and nation wracked by drought: just north of the Mexico-U.S. border, in the state of Arizona. But Nabhan guesses that the scheme will advance more quickly in Mexico: “If necessity and hunger are the mother of invention, Ronnie and the Zamarippa Agave Agroforestry System have pressures working on their side. People need an alternative because they can’t farm or ranch as they did in the past. What they are proposing is really one of the only ways out of this dilemma.”

Cummins believes that Flores Gonzalez’ Agroforestry Zamarripa System could be applied in many other parts of the world. “We think agroforestry is at the cutting edge for agriculture regeneration. About 40% of the world’s terrain is arid or semiarid and different varieties of agave and nitrogen-fixing native trees are already growing in half of these areas. The possibilities are immense.” With options for combating soil degradation in short supply, many farmers and nations will be following the Guanajuato experiment with great interest.

Cummins believes that Flores Gonzalez’ Agroforestry Zamarripa System could be applied in other parts of the world, and that agroforestry is at the cutting edge for agriculture regeneration. Image courtesy of José Flores González.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

Tree-range Chickens: How Raising Poultry in the Woods of B.C. Could Improve Food Security for Some Communities

Raising chickens in the woods is being touted as a way to help improve the food security of First Nation communities by providing an alternative to dwindling supplies of traditional foods such as moose and salmon.

The Regenerative Poultry Project has already produced 1,500 chickens on a small farm about 150 kilometres northwest of Terrace, B.C., using techniques developed in Guatemala.

The idea is that the chickens are allowed to roam the woods, roosting in trees and foraging for food, mimicking the behaviours of their wild ancestors.

“Chickens actually evolved as a jungle species,” said Kesia Nagata of the non-profit Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, which is helping run the project.

“They feel happiest when covered with a canopy that they can range under. They like to forage for their food, they like to scratch under trees and they like to roost and explore with the protection of a canopy over them.”

The birds aren’t completely on their own, though. They live on the property of Nathan Coombs, a Gitxsan farmer who runs Skeena Valley Farm and cares for the chickens.

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Events

Introduction to Agroforestry

How do you transform your land into a regenerative system with the help of trees? Learn from an expert who has achieved it already! Welcome Marina O’Connell, a biodynamic farmer and permaculture designer whose teachings can help you improve gardens, small scale land and allotments, as well as plan your own agroforestry system on a large scale .

On this two day course, Marina will teach you everything you need to know about how to start plotting and designing your own agroforestry system. Along the journey, she will impart wisdom and practical knowledge as well as sharing her extensive skills and experiences. Expect an engaging mix of group work and classroom based exercises as well as practical activities taking place outdoors, in the beautiful forest garden at Grow Wilder.

Intro to Agroforestry Seminar

Join Nathan Ayers and Bill Bobier as they introduce the concepts and practices of Agroforestry as they are being implemented at Earthscape Farm. Agroforestry is the integration of trees and shrubs with crop and animal production systems. These systems focus primarily on soil health, water quality and the diversification of food production systems. Presenters will share information on five agroforestry systems for West Michigan farms, forests and landowners.

Facilitators: Nathan Ayers and Bill Bobier

Location: Earthscape Farm located at 4220 E Loop Road, Hesperia, MI

Registration limited to 20 participants.

Cost: Free

Sponsored by the West Michigan Agroforestry Partnership

Webinar – 8th World Forest Week

The 8th World Forest Week (WFW2022) will feature a series of inspiring events bringing FAO Member States, a range of partner organizations, leaders, science and youth to discuss a broad range of topics at the margins of the 26th Session of the Committee on Forestry (COFO26).

As in previous years, the World Forest Week will provide participants and partner organizations with a unique opportunity to exchange, connect, showcase best practices and actions on the ground, and to contribute from the forest community to the global international debate on forestry and environmental issues. Events organized during the World Forest Week will be virtual and hybrid, organized/co-sponsored by Members, partner organizations (including the Collaborative Partnership on Forests) and FAO.

WFW2022 is structured around the priority areas outlined in the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 with its vision of a sustainable and food secure world for all, in the context of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. FAO seeks transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind.