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Apútzio de Juárez Journal: Avocados Imperil Monarch Butterflies’ Winter Home in Mexico

“The authorities need to control this,” said Armando López Orduña, general director of the Mexican Avocado Producers and Packer-Exporters Association.

To offset deforestation, the association has planted a half-million trees since 2009 and hopes to plant another half-million by 2018, he said.

Around Apútzio de Juarez, a town of 1,100 people surrounded by fields of guava and corn, scars on the hillsides and patches of young avocado trees signal the crop’s advance. Some here have farmed avocado for decades. But now, growers from other areas are buying land.

Davíd Romero Hernández, a stocky farmer who was trimming grass in his new avocado orchard on the edge of Apútzio one morning in October, said that the land had been covered with oak and pine. But the owner felled the trees a year ago and sold it to him.

Mr. Romero, 51, pointed to a shorn hill above his plot. That, too, was also covered in forest until a few months ago, he said. Then a farmer from another village bought it.

“It’s the ambition of avocado,” he said.

That ambition could soon increase. Zitácuaro, the municipality surrounding Apútzio, is in the process of seeking certification to export avocados to the United States — a fact that is on the lips of every farmer.


Land cleared for avocado growth in Apútzio. Deforestation is accelerating in the state, experts say. Credit Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Certification is awarded municipality by municipality, and not all of Michoacán can export avocados. As it stands, some of Apútzio’s avocados are sold to buyers from Uruapan — a town 100 miles west that is the heart of the industry — who pass them off as having been grown there.

Deforestation in Apútzio is a recent problem and far less extensive than in other areas of Michoacán, experts said. But “it is becoming a significant problem,” given the area’s proximity to the monarchs’ habitat, said Edgar González Godoy, director in Mexico of the New York-based Rainforest Alliance.

Efforts to fight deforestation in the reserve focus on about 34,000 acres around where the butterflies roost. Programs run by the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations have helped cut logging from hundreds of acres each year to just 28 so far this year, said the fund’s Mr. Vidal.

But the trees in the reserve’s outer ring play an important role, said Manuel Sarmiento, a biologist and member of the Alliance for the Conservation of Forests, Land and Water, a group of local farmers, environmental activists and residents.

For example, the trees cool the air from Michoacán’s warm western plains as it rises toward the oyamel forests in the center. If the temperature at the heart of the reserve, about seven miles from Apútzio, were to rise, the oyamel could suffer, and thus the butterflies would suffer, too, he said.

Mr. González worries that the lure of avocado will only grow if Mexico succeeds in opening new markets. He noted that deforestation is growing in Jalisco State, another area that hopes it will soon be able to export its crop to the United States.

Source: NYT > World

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