The green revolution initiated in the second half of the 20th century has ironically done the maximum harm to the original cover of greenery on our planet. The rapid expansion in the areas under agriculture has led to extensive deforestation, increase in the use of pesticides and fertilizers. But it has also hopelessly degraded vast areas of farmland, hitting close to 40% of the population of the planet. Among those aiding in the efforts to restoring the farmland is a Mexican farmer who has come up with the world’s cheapest fodder.
Reversing the process isn’t easy as farmland around the world has seen the degradation of its topsoil. Intensive farming practices have thinned out the topsoil, and we keep losing around 12 million hectares of land to desertification each year; an area that normally yields around 20 million tons of grains on an average.
And along with we are losing 24B tons of rich fertile soil, mostly on account of unsustainable agricultural methods. This could lead to the degradation of 95% of the planet’s land by 2050. And the solution might lie in unconventional ideas and practices from people on the fringe of conventional forms of agriculture.
Professor Gary Nabhan of the University of Arizona believes that the real ideas will come from these people and we need to listen. The central Mexican state of Guanajuato could be the center of a remarkable solution. Latin America is in the grip of a sustained cycle of conditions not favorable to farming. 85% of Mexico is in the grip of a severe drought, caused by climate changes. Rains have been sporadic.
But even the rains bring little cheer to the farmers. Peasant families working in the ejidos, or communal land, will be the worst hit. Most of these lands are unviable economically and another season of drought could break their resilience.
Could This Be The World’s Cheapest Fodder?
A small-time farmer, Jose Flores Gonzalez, and brothers run a farm bordering San Miguel de Allende in the Luis de La Paz municipality. Their farm covered over 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) once. But desperate times forced them into desperate measures. They sold parcels of their farmland and were finally left with 10% of the original.
The Gonzalez brother looked for employment far away from their farms. Flores went on to study mechanical engineering, later teaching at a university. Meanwhile, the drought and other factors led to the land turning onto the surface of Mars.
Flores Gonzalez had not given up on his farming past. Instead of despairing, he sought to make good use of his educational training and possibly create the world’s cheapest fodder. He studied the growth patterns of a few native plants and found a means to bring back to health the failing ecosystem of the area and revive the fortunes of the desperate peasants.
The Gonzalez brother came up with the world’s cheapest fodder by a revolutionary arrangement of intercropping mesquite trees with agave. This method also led to sequestering of carbon.
Both mesquite and agave are native pants that proliferate on the lands in Mexico. Both mesquite and agave have been used by the indigenous population for centuries to make tequila, pulque, mescal, atole, and various other alcoholic beverages.
The agave traps moisture from the atmosphere and stores it in its thick and thorny leaves. They even absorb the CO2 at night. Water transpiration is abysmally low which allows for the production of a large amount of biomass, even in periods of sustained drought.
The mesquite can also capture nitrogen and restore soil fertility. Both these plants were not preferred by livestock due to the presence of lectins and saponins that was released by the plants to ward off predators. Fermentation has turned the plants edible for the livestock, and they were readily feeding on them. Gonzalez had figured a way to turn these barely edible plants into the world’s cheapest fodder that was relished by livestock. And to top it all the mesquite and agave plants did not need to be irrigated conventionally.
The cost comes to a mere 2 cents for a pound of the world’s cheapest fodder. It is far cheaper than hay or alfalfa. But the land has been degraded to such an extent that even growing the world’s cheapest fodder is proving to be a challenge. But the government of Mexico and local NGOs have become involved in the project.
Around 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) have already been restored, and the fermentation process comes to a mere 1 Mexican peso ($0.05) per kilo. Farmers who have witnessed the simplicity and effectiveness of making the world’s cheapest fodder have converted overnight to the system. It could lead to a turnaround in the decline of farming in Mexico.