The Billion Agave Project is a game-changing ecosystem regeneration strategy recently adopted by several innovative Mexican farms in the high desert region of Guanajuato. With your support, we were the main group to donate to the Organic Consumers Association by supporting this crucial project which has now proven its worth in arid green regions and which provides both food and income for some of the farmers. most in difficulty in the world.
This strategy combines the cultivation of agave plants and nitrogen-fixing companion tree species (such as mesquite), with holistic rotational grazing of livestock. The result is a high biomass, high forage yield system that performs well even on degraded and semi-arid lands. A manifesto on mesquite is available in English1 and Español.2
The system produces large amounts of agave leaves and root stems – up to 1 ton of biomass over the 8-10 year life of the plant. When minced and fermented in closed containers, this plant material produces excellent, inexpensive animal fodder (2 cents per pound).
This agroforestry system reduces the pressure of overgrazing fragile rangelands and improves soil health and water retention, while sucking up and storing massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
The objective of the Billion Agave campaign is to plant 1 billion agaves in the world to suck up and store 1 billion tonnes of destabilizing CO2 for the climate. The campaign will be financed by donations and public and private investments.
Solution against climate change
Agave plants and nitrogen-fixing trees, densely intercropped and cultivated together, have the ability to absorb and sequester massive amounts of atmospheric CO2.
They also produce more above-ground and below-ground biomass (and animal fodder) on a continuous year-to-year basis than any other desert or semi-desert species. On their own, agaves can suck and store above ground the dry weight equivalent of 30 to 60 tonnes of CO2 per hectare (12 to 24 tonnes per acre) per year.
Ideal for arid and hot climates, agaves and their companion trees, once established, require no irrigation and are fundamentally impervious to rising global temperatures and drought.
Livestock feed source
Agave leaves, full of saponins and lectins, are indigestible to livestock. However, once their massive (high in sugar) leaves are finely chopped via a machine and fermented in closed containers for 30 days, the end product provides nutritious and inexpensive silage or animal fodder.
This agave silage / companion tree, combined with restoring degraded rangelands, can make the difference between survival and crushing poverty for millions of smallholder farmers and ranchers around the world.
Agaves require little or no irrigation. They even thrive in dry, degraded lands unsuitable for agricultural production due to their photosynthetic pathway of crassulaceous acid metabolism (CAM).
The CAM pathway allows agave plants to absorb moisture from the air and store it in their thick leaves at night. During the day, the opening in their leaves (stomata) closes, significantly reducing evaporation.
A new model of agroforestry
A pioneering group of Mexican farmers are transforming their landscape and their livelihoods. How? ‘Or’ What? By densely planting (1,600-2,500 per hectare), pruning and intercalating a fast growing, high biomass, high forage yielding agave species among the pre-existing tree species (500 per hectare) with deep roots nitrogen fixing agents (such as mesquite), or among planted tree seedlings.
When the agaves are 3 years old, and for the next five to seven years, farmers can prune the leaves or pencas, finely chop them with a machine, then ferment the agave in closed containers for 30 days, ideally combining the leaves. agave with 20% pods and legume branches by volume to give them a higher protein level.
In Guanajuato, Mesquite trees are starting to produce pods that can be harvested in five years. By grade 7, mesquite and agaves have grown into a fairly dense forest. In years 8-10, the root stalk or pina (weighing between 100 and 200 pounds) of the agave is ready to be harvested to produce a distilled liquor called mescal.
During this time, the hijuelos (or small) produced by the agave mother plants are continuously transplanted into the agroforestry system, ensuring continued growth of biomass (and carbon storage).
In this agroforestry system, farmers avoid overgrazing by integrating rotational grazing of their livestock on their rangelands. They feed their animals by supplementing the pasture fodder with fermented agave silage.