An Agroecosystem on the Rocks: The Perfect Cocktail for Extinction

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The majority of agave growing and tequila production worldwide takes place in west-central Mexico.

The majority of agave growing and tequila production worldwide takes place in west-central Mexico. Sadly, agave cultivation uses genetically restricted, monocultural practises, including vegetative propagation, as a result of the sizeable tequila business and the rising demand for tequila.

These monocultural practises endanger biodiversity, reduce the adaptability and resilience of agave plants, and endanger bat species that pollinate agave, which are already at great risk.

Before this system is destroyed, we must develop more sustainable ways to cultivate agave because it seems doubtful that people will give up their tequila of choice.

This case study will describe this problem from the standpoint of social-ecological systems. This viewpoint requires assessing a complex system's entirety while taking into account both the ecological systems—such as how creatures interact with Online Assignment Help Leeds another and their environment—and the social systems, which are of fundamental significance. [6]

The history of the tequila industry, its relationship to bats, and the social and ecological backdrop of agaves in west-central Mexico will all be covered first. Using the key lock-ins of industrial agriculture from IPES-Food, we will then study the different monocultural agave farming failures and previous remedies, as well as the numerous structural lock-ins that are causing this problem.

Lastly, we will offer three suggestions for enhancing this system going forward, bearing in mind who is to blame for this failure and who is capable of making a difference.

There are more than 200 species of plants in the genus Agave.

In many dry and semi-arid environments, they are keystone species, and Mexico is one of their most significant habitats [8].

THE ECOLOGY OF AGAVES AND THE MAKER OF TEQUILA

[9] More than 150 agave species have been identified in Mexico, and most of them are found in deserts, chaparral, different kinds of woods, and grasslands. [10] [9] Agaves are used by many local people as food, fibre, beverages, fodder, ornaments, and shelter. [11] Agave is another possible biofuel source that is attracting increasing interest [12]. [13] Since the 17th century, blue agave (Agave tequilana) has been utilised in Mexico specifically for the creation of tequila. [12]

Open spaces with lots of sunlight and rocky soils are the ideal environmental conditions for agaves. [11] They reach maturity between the ages of 6 and 14. When the plant reaches maturity, a 3- to 6-meter-tall inflorescence emerges from the centre, with the water and nutrients coming from the leaves and stem. The inflorescence's tiny branches bear flowers. [11] To allow sugar and nutrients to concentrate at the centre of the plant, often known as the "head" or "pin," when the agaves are used to make tequila, the inflorescence is cut off. The juice will then be extracted once it is boiled and harvested. [14] Tequila will next be produced by fermenting the juice with yeast. [1]

These operations reduced the diversity of agave plants within farms, the resilience of numerous ecosystems, and the agrobiodiversity surrounding them. Our investigation goes into further detail about the loss of diversity. The current situation is a result of social and economic forces, as well as the ecology and life cycle of the agave plant.

 

AGAVE AND BATS CO-EVOLVING

More than 1450 different species of bats (Chiroptera) have been identified globally, representing 20 major families of mammals. [15] By consuming nectar and moving pollen between plants, bats satisfy a variety of ecological niches throughout their habitat, including plant pollination. Three nectivorous bat species that are part of these species have been recognised as being the main pollinators of agaves. [5] In comparison to other pollinators like insects or birds, it has been demonstrated that these three species—Leptonycteris yerbabuenae (Lesser long-nosed bat), Leptonycteris nivalis (Mexican long-nosed bat), and Choeronycteris mexicana (Mexican long-tongued bat)—travel farther while transporting more genetically diverse pollen.

However, the species of nectar-eating bats have specially modified their echolocation to locate agaves across widely separated landscapes, and they are also able to identify the distinctive acoustic signature of the flowers they consume. [17] In fact, according to phylogenetic evidence, agaves and bats that pollinate agaves share a common evolutionary history, emphasising the important ecological relationship between these two species. [16]

TEQUILA PRODUCTION'S SOCIAL HISTORY

For thousands of years, the Mexican people have relied on agave for a variety of purposes, including the manufacturing of molasses, drinks, and textile fibres. With the entrance of Spanish settlers who brought the distillation method during the 17th century, the manufacture of tequila and mezcal (another alcoholic beverage produced of agave) grew. The manufacturing of mezcal and tequila in the Jalisco region, and particularly in the area surrounding the town of Tequila, began in the 18th century. It swiftly rose to prominence as the region's primary economic activity, controlled by affluent families of Spanish heritage. During the 19th century, the process was industrialised as a result of political unrest and changes in land ownership, which encouraged the rapid expansion of haciendas, vast territories governed by family-owned businesses that vertically integrated production and transformation.

The Mexican revolution at the turn of the 20th century brought about a significant economic and political crisis that resulted in the dissolution of major haciendas and the transfer of land at a time when tequila production and export were at their peak. Due to the lengthy agave farming process mentioned above, the partnership that was built between several small agave farmers and tequila distillers was not well-coordinated, and the business experienced several cycles of shortages. Farmers and distillers at the time had a variety of agreements in place, such as contracts with certain distillers or small-scale farmers selling their products on the market. But compared to the magnitude of production now, it was nothing. Agave and other conventional crops were still interplanted over a large portion of the area.

Also, the usage of chemicals was much lower than it is now since the vulnerability of agave to disease had not yet been increased by the expansion of monoculture.

Standards were formally created to safeguard the calibre of the tequila produced from the 1950s to the 1970s. However, the distillers' growing demands and pressure quickly forced a revision of this norm to permit the production of tequila of lower quality[1]. Industrialization increased and quality standards dropped even further as foreign capital started to enter the sector. Ironically, that is when the Denomination of Origin (DO) for tequila was formed, in 1974. A Denomination of Origin is a legal device that connects a product's name and intellectual property to a particular localised entity.

At this point, the Mexican government assumed ownership of the word "tequila" and set restrictions on where it may be produced. [19]

 

The Mexican economy was reformed in the 1980s in accordance with the concepts of deregulation, privatisation, and free trade. To oversee the DO requirements and ensure that they are followed, a private non-profit entity called the Tequila Regulatory Council (CRT) was established in 1993. Tequila production and export soared at the turn of the century as the DO gained recognition on a global scale (e.g., through the NAFTA agreement or by the European Union). For instance, between 1995 and 2019, production increased by more than thrice. [1]

Tequila has been portrayed throughout this history as being a vital component of Mexican identity, primarily in the 20th and later centuries. It's interesting how this merged discussions of nationalism, cultural integrity, and neoliberal industry changes. [20] Tequila is now unquestionably recognised as one of the most significant elements of Mexican culture.

Tequila is a rapidly expanding market today, with a global market value of $9.89 billion in 2021.

[21] As a result, it displays intricate dynamics that connect local communities to international markets and that we can deem both ethically and economically unsustainable. In the portions of this study that follow, we will go into further depth about how unsustainable this system is.

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