High Demand for Tequila Puts Mexico's Dry Forests at Risk

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"Tequila opens the way for mezcal," said Illsley.

Toward Sustainable Production

The indigenous people of La Montaña de Guerrero, according to Illsley, know how to manage and sustain wild populations of the region's unique agave, which is an important forest product for local people.

"Dry tropical forest is not very interesting for loggers," said Illsley. "The economically important species are non-timber or non-conventional species. Among these, maguey [agave] is perhaps potentially the most important."

Encouraging sustainable production of the plant and giving local people control of the commercial product they make from it may help to prevent overexploitation in response to the tequila shortage, she said.

In June, Illsley will begin a three-year, U.S. $30,000 Kleinhans Fellowship from Rainforest Alliance in New York to implement a plan for the sustainable production and marketing of artisan mezcal from La Montaña de Guerrero.

She hopes that the artisan mezcal, which will be sold under a trademark that belongs to the people of La Montaña de Guerrero, will fetch a similar price as a premium tequila. Profits from sale of the mezcal will go directly back to the community, a portion of which will be marked for social programs such as alcoholism treatment.

Sabrena Rodriguez, who manages the fellowship for Rainforest Alliance, said, "We believe that the project [has] the ability to transform the local mezcal industry, making it more ecologically sustainable and more socially equitable."

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