One Billion Agaves: A Carbon-Sequestering, Agroforestry-Based Food and Livestock Management System to Regenerate Drylands
Adoption by small-holder farmers of a carbon-sequestering farm system that thrives in degraded drylands and provides food and livelihoods.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Organic Consumers Association, 501(c) 3 organization registered in the US
Via Regenerativa y Organica A.C. , Non-Profit Organization registered in Mexico
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
Villages of Membrillo (75 acres/30 hectares) and Dona Juana (105 acres/42 hectares), in city of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato (state).
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
Several staff from Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International have lived in San Miguel de Allende (and Mexico City) for a decade, others their whole lives. We selected San Miguel de Allende not only because the native plants and trees (agaves and mesquites and huizaches) necessary for this agroforestry/fermented forage project thrive here, but also because it contains an urban area, San Miguel de Allende, (15 km from our rural pilot projects) with a pre-existing market demand for organic and regenerative food and beverages. We also selected the San Miguel area because its semi-arid climate and environment (though challenging for agriculture) and impoverished rural communities closely resemble the majority (59%) of Mexico territory, and share the same socio-economic-climate challenges faced by the overwhelming majority of Mexico’s rural communities. Ten years ago we established a non-profit organization in Mexico, Via Organica, which operates two small organic food stores (supplied by 250 small producers), a farm-to-table restaurant, and a research/teaching farm/conference center outside of San Miguel in the village of Membrillo. We also have an office for public education and coalition-building in Mexico City. Our research farm and conference center, adjacent to several other cooperating rural projects, allows us to demonstrate the various components and practices of the agave/mesquite agroforestry project plus the ability to bring together farmers, community organizations, students, government officials, and investors who may be interested in replicating and scaling up this project. Visitors have shown strong interest in deploying this agroforestry system across Mexico and also the drylands of the Southwestern US, and the arid and semi-arid drylands of Southern Africa, Central America, South America, India, and Australia, where agaves and nitrogen-fixing companion trees are already growing, and where ecosystem restoration is sorely needed.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
San Miguel de Allende is a 480-year United Nations World Heritage Site, in the high-desert drylands (6300 feet elevation) of North Central Mexico, 170 miles NW of Mexico City. San Miguel is located in the high-desert plateau of Guanajuato called the bajio, 6 hours east of the Pacific Ocean and 6 hours west of the Gulf of Mexico. Elevation is 6300 feet , surrounded by mountains up to 7500 feet. The region has a 4-6-month rainy season from June-October, followed by 6-8 months with little or no rain. Average rainfall is about 20 inches (500 mm) per year, which though limited, is greater than the rainfall in surrounding regions. Temperatures are mild much of the year, but hotter in the afternoons and in the dry season, sunny nearly every day, cooling off at night and reaching into the 80s in the afternoons. There are occasional light freezes during winter dry season. In the rainy season high temperatures rarely exceed 80 degrees. Unfortunately, the climate in the region in changing, just like most of Mexico and the world. Rains are becoming less predictable, making it difficult to grow the traditional milpa of corn, beans, and squash, and to provide adequate grass, grain, silage, and forage for livestock. Most families own at least 2-5 acres of land, and also are members of village ejidos or community organizations (dating back to the Mexican Revolution and its land reform measures of the 1930s) that collectively own hundreds of hectares or more. These common-use ejido lands are typically overgrazed and degraded. Most farms in the area are small with no wells for crop irrigation, nor access to surface water, relying instead on seasonal rains and what rainwater farmers can collect and store in cisterns and ponds. Aquifers in the regional watershed, Independencia, are becoming rapidly depleted, and an increasing number are contaminated with fluoride and arsenic. Only a small percentage of rural and urban households maintain traditional gardens for fruits and vegetables, although interest in traditional, non-chemical organic gardening and livestock management is increasing. The region’s population is approx. 150,000, divided evenly between the urban central city and county seat and hundreds of outlying local villages and ejidos, most of which are quite poor. Most San Miguel residents are locally born Mexicans, working and lower middle class, or relocated from rural areas and larger Mexican cities. Although families typically raise some of their food, over the past several decades rural families have become less food self-sufficient, shopping for food in the city farmers’ market or from trucks that bring fruits and vegetables into their villages. Most rural communities are fast becoming semi-food deserts due to poverty, the difficulties of maintaining traditional milpas or cornfields, and lack of production of fresh fruits and vegetables. Many lower-income families are malnourished and overweight from overconsumption of cheap, sugary carbohydrates and processed foods. Mexico now ranks No.1 in diabetes. Fortunately, there is an emerging consciousness and movement to eat healthier, fresh, and locally produced organic foods.
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Business as usual in the San Miguel area, rural and urban, as well as Mexico (and the world) as a whole, is nothing less than a recipe for disaster unless significant changes are made over the next three decades (2020-2050). The environment is being steadily degraded, with increased air pollution, water pollution, water scarcity (regional aquifers are being depleted), soil degradation, and erosion, making it harder and harder to survive and grow crops. The climate is changing, with hotter temperatures, less predictable rains, and more extreme temperature fluctuations, causing crop failures, an increase in crop pests, and economic hardship. Diets and diet-related public health are deteriorating, in part because people are no longer food self-sufficient and cannot afford to buy locally and regionally-produced high quality fresh fruits, vegetables, and animal products. While costs of living are increasing (housing, fuel, utilities, transportation, food), wages, especially for rural residents, are not. Crime and gang-violence are increasing at alarming rates, in no small part due to rural poverty and government and police corruption. It is no exaggeration to point out that, unless economic conditions improve for the majority of the population, especially rural youth and families living in the poorer urban barrios or neighborhoods, organized crime and violence will continue to undermine Mexican society. Many young people, especially in rural areas, would prefer to move to the US rather than deal with the difficulties they face at home. Most politicians (there are exceptions) and public policy suffer from a lack of vision and a dearth of practical solutions, even though ecological, technological, agricultural, and land use systems, such as the food and agroforestry-based livestock system we are proposing already exist, albeit in embryonic forms across the municipalidad and the country. Public policies originally designed to promote grassroots participation, economic empowerment, and democracy, such as the communally-owned ejido lands in Mexico (where we are developing some of our pilot projects), have been allowed to degenerate and atrophy.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Revitalizing rural areas and restoring key ecosystem services, including reducing overgrazing and restoring watersheds, qualitatively increasing above ground carbon storage in plants and carbon sequestration in soils and plants, through agroforestry and other regenerative food, farming, and land use practices, is key to regenerating Mexico and re-stabilizing the climate. With scaled-up best practices such as the agave/mesquite agroforestry system of the bajio, local communities can dramatically increase agricultural productivity and sustainability (inexpensive nutritious fermented forage and restoration of degraded rangelands), restore hydrological balance (check dams, keyline contouring of agave) and soil health (no till, no chemicals, nitrogen fixing plants, year-round vegetation) reduce grazing pressure on rangelands (reducing herd size, while increasing the value of each animal, use of forage to reduce grazing in dry months), improve diets and public health (nutritious, locally-produced meat and dairy products), improve rural livelihoods and well-being (system lends itself to high-quality value-added organically certified products with reduced livestock inputs, and certified mescal upon final harvest of the agave), and reduce the pressures driving forced migration, crime, and violence. Ultimately, regenerative systems, like the agave agroforestry system we are developing, scaled-up nationally and globally can significantly mitigate and help reverse global warming and climate change, if carried out in combination with a global conversion to renewable energy and radical energy conservation practices.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The Billion Agave/Mesquite Agroforestry Project is a game-changing ecosystem Regeneration strategy with the power to restore degraded ecosystems, mitigate and eventually reverse global warming, and transform all aspects of life in targeted rural communities. Once this game-changing agave agroforestry and holistic livestock grazing pilot project is fully developed and funded (with both public and private funds), we can expect it to spread to the other degraded semi-arid and arid areas of Guanajuato and Mexico (59% of the total Mexico territory is similar to the terrain here), especially ejido lands, where land degradation, water scarcity, overgrazing, and rural poverty are endemic. Many of Mexico’s 28,000 communally-owned ejido lands are ideally-suited to duplicate and expand this project. In the San Miguel area this system will dramatically improve the economic livelihoods of farmers and rural communities, creating a market for organically certified, regeneratively-produced meat, dairy, and mescal products, while restoring rural landscapes and providing economic opportunity for the youth women, and small farmers and herders of the region. Food nutrition and public health will improve, grassroots civic participation will increase, and pressures causing forced migration and crime will decrease. San Miguel can become a model, not only for Mexico, but for the 40% of the world’s total lands (arid and semi-arid areas), which are degraded and poverty-stricken.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
We need to develop a regenerative food, farming, and land-use system over the next 30 years rather than continue with the degenerative practices that we have now. Current business as usual in rural and urban areas degrades the environment and accelerates global warming, meanwhile undermining public health, discouraging the development of local food production and food security, engendering rural poverty, depressing grassroots participation and cooperation, and maintaining an economic, political, and cultural status quo that favors the economic elite.
For a new food system to be successful it must first and foremost address our growing environmental and climate crisis, the most serious threat that humans have ever encountered. Over the years of 2020-50 agave plants and nitrogen-fixing trees such as mesquite densely intercropped and cultivated together have the capacity to draw down and store massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere, both above ground and below ground, producing more biomass (and animal fodder) on a continuous year-to-year basis than any other desert or semi-desert species. Agaves alone can draw down and store above ground the dry weight equivalent of 30-60 tons of CO2 per hectare (12-24 tons per acre) per year, higher than just about every other cultivated or wild plant on the planet. Ideal for arid and hot climates, agaves and their companion trees, once established, require no irrigation, and are basically impervious to rising global temperatures and drought.
Our new food system will steadily improve diets and public health over the next three decades. Livestock, properly grazed and managed on the world’s 8 billion acres of pastureland and rangelands (croplands comprise 4 billion acres, forests 10 billion) can provide an massive supply of highly-nutritious meat and animal products, creating a degree of prosperity (especially if they can command a higher price in the marketplace by being certified organic) in rural communities, that can give rise to the complimentary production of a wider range of fruits, vegetables, and other foods, stimulating the restoration of full food sovereignty. By reducing poverty, rural people will be able to afford to purchase higher quality food from their neighbors and the local marketplace. But perhaps most important our new food system will engender hope rather than despair, improving mental health at the same time that it improves nutrition and physical health.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?