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Intensive Farming of Tequila Plant Harming Biodiversity

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Drink too much tequila and you may lose your marbles, but a huge appetite for the drink is killing off more than just brain cells: intensive cultivation of its main ingredient, Agave tequilana, is harming the genetic diversity of other agave species.

Not only that, says Patricia Colunga of the natural resources unit at the Centre for Scientific Investigation in Yucatan, Mexico, but the area available for traditional food crops is falling, and the intensive farming is leading to soil erosion. Colunga and colleague Daniel Zizumbo interviewed farmers from areas south of Jalisco state, and across Tequila-Amatitan, regions of west-central Mexico that are important sources of agave plants. They asked about the types of agave grown, and collected samples of plants (Biodiversity Conservation, vol 16, p 1653).

"South of Jalisco is the nucleus for the greatest diversity of traditional varieties of agaves in west-central Mexico," says Colunga. "The diversity and the traditional products that it supplies are part of the cultural heritage of Mexico and should be conserved."

The farmers said that traditional agave varieties can be grown with staples such as maize, beans and squash without recourse to herbicides, but Agave tequilana is grown in monocultures that require the use of herbicides.

From issue 2608 of New Scientist magazine, 15 June 2007, page 22

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