The agricultural practices behind two famous beverages
During our stay in Oaxaca we got to understand that local communities have found various ways to consult among each other for proper management of their common watershed. However, different from past decades, communities now are no longer concerned with only subsistence agriculture. In the region of Sierra Sur and in the Ocotlan District (south of the Valles Centrales Region), we visited two families with a history in commercial scale agriculture. In both cases, two famous beverages depended on their agricultural practices. I am referring to coffee from coffee beans and mezcal (distilled alcoholic beverage) from agave plants.
In our visit at the Mezcal Real Minero in Santa Catarina Minas, we were amazed that this seventh generation Mezcal-producers had preserved the traditional techniques for Mezcal production. Graciela and Eduardo were set to continue the legacy of their father Don Lorenzo through production of mezcal in small clay pot stills and other traditional methods.
The most impressive aspect of their work is the intense program for maintaining one of the largest diverse sustainable agave reforestation projects. Graciela, now co-owner of Real Minero, displayed a vast knowledge on different species of agave despite not having a formal educational background in that field. In addition to having rescued several agave species, she had been informally making scientific observations on Agave Karwinskii Teotitlan, an endemic species for Ocotlan. She observed that:
- Endemic Agave Karwinskii plants grew the young plants through runners that went underground meters away from the main plant body.
- The species has a 10 to 12-year maturation period, but these plants were cut due to their irregular flowering.
- For a changing climate, the species showed potential to be one of the most adaptable species because their root system enables them to capture moisture from rain and then store water in their leaves during the dry season.
On top of the current water crisis, with upcoming irregular raining seasons due to climate change, we hope that commercial producers such as Real Minero continue conservation of agave species even if some of them might show less adaptive features than the example of Agave Karwinskii.
The story changes in Sierra Sur, in the region of Tierra Blanca. There we were welcomed by Don Carlos’ family for a tour of the coffee plantation and learned about the organic techniques developed with the help of Mbis Bin AC. Don Carlos is among 38 growers in the community who works with the Canadian company “ChocoSol”. In comparison to Real Minero who had vertically integrated every aspect of mezcal production, the Tierra Blanca community had the potential to only manage the supply chain and reforestation.
In the topic of climate change, Mbis Bin AC members highlighted a couple of observations that negatively impacted the coffee supply:
- In the recent year, the rains were too early, therefore the plants started their blossoming phase early.
- When the plant blossoms, they put a lot of nutrients on the process.
- The strong rains damaged the first flowers resulting in delayed future flowering and less coffee cherries per plant.
Climate change affects more than the availability of our favorite drinks
There are no available high-resolution earth system models for the region, but the producers are already observing that early or late rains, altered due to climate change, have a negative effect on the phenology of the plants. Moreover, droughts in the region will further shape the adaptability of certain agave and coffee plants, therefore affecting the respective industry. For some of us, the worst that can happen is a higher price for these products. However, for the communities we visited, adaptation to climate change will directly impact their livelihoods.