Agave cultivation, an option in Oaxaca to heal and recover eroded soils

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A total of 68 thousand 208 hectares of land distributed in the three main production districts register different wear and tear and require actions to retain sediments; maguey plantations are an option

Oaxaca de Juárez.– A total of 68,208 hectares found in the three main agave-mezcal producing districts in Oaxaca register different levels of erosion and require actions to recover and maintain the soils of the region, according to a study prepared by The Economics Of Land Degradation, German Cooperation Mexico-Germany and the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

However, in the analysis called The economy of mezcal production in Oaxaca, published in 2022, it is explained that of the total affected hectares, only 48.7% (or 33,249 hectares) correspond to areas with adequate agroclimatic characteristics for production of agaves, that is, they have similar conditions to where jungles, forests and dry scrublands are naturally distributed.

The study area comprises three districts: Yautepec, in the Sierra Sur region, with 461,757 hectares; Tlacolula, in the Central Valleys, with 328,547 hectares, and Miahuatlán, also in the Sierra Sur, with 394,811 hectares.

The study by GIZ and The Economics of Land Degradation highlights that, considering the requirements of agaves and the experience using them as a tool to retain sediments and recover eroded soils, it can be concluded that there is an opportunity for 33,249 hectares to establish agave plantations on lands degraded by erosion, giving priority to areas with more recent soil wear.

“This makes it possible to reduce investments, have greater success in production, and stop the deforestation processes of forests and jungles with natural vegetation and arboreal vegetation,” the study states. It is even ensured that the sustainability scenario to produce agave-mezcal considers the application of agroforestry models in heavily eroded areas.

According to data from the Agro-Food and Fisheries Information Service (SIAP), the area planted with agave on average is 1,572.84 hectares in Miahuatlán, 3,79.91 hectares in Yautepec and 3,965.33 hectares in the district of Tlacolula.

The area harvested each year represents on average between 10% and 15% of the area planted in recent years.

The Information Service details that the average yield is 46 tons per hectare in Miahuatlán, 68 tons per hectare in Yautepec and 55 tons per hectare in Tlacolula.

The Yautepec district, he points out, stands out in terms of pineapple production volumes, compared to the other two districts.

“The differences between the districts have softened over the last five years. In harmony with the agave cultivation cycle, the production of pineapples obtains an optimal yield when the harvest intervenes after seven years, and particularly for the sprat agave species, the majority in the study sample.

“In other words, the volume of pineapples harvested depends on the plants planted six years ago.”

The Valley of Oaxaca, it is explained in the study, is a semi-arid region in the central highlands of southern Mexico, so the availability of water is an important aspect.

“Since agriculture is the most important economic activity in the Valley, managing water resources is one of the biggest challenges. A proportion of farmers choose to harvest wild agave crops that induce a strong dependence on rainfall. As annual rainfall varies greatly due to climatic conditions, crop losses (all crops combined) due to drought occur one year out of four.”

In addition, it warns that another big problem in the state is land degradation. “It is estimated that 85% of the land in Oaxaca is degraded and 30% of the land is very severely affected due to the farmer’s dependence on rainfall and the fact that the water cycle depends to a large extent on the quality of the land”, is detailed.

It stresses that the loss of nutrients and productivity, salinization and deforestation in these areas is valued at more than 3.5 billion dollars, which represents an impact of between 6% and 5% of the Gross National Product.

“The soil suffers an accelerated degradation mainly as a consequence of various human activities, affecting the poorest regions with greater intensity, as is the case of Oaxaca, partly due to the predominance of agriculture in the area.

“To a large extent, this degradation is associated with the lack of knowledge about the environmental role that the soil plays, as well as the limits for its use based on its aptitudes and about the appropriate techniques so that it can be sustainable”, concludes the study.

Source: El Universal