Do you have avocados on your counter, in your refrigerator, or in your lunch? When you next visit your local market or grocery, take a look at where the avocados for sale are grown. In many instances, the answer is Mexico, as it is the world’s largest producer.
However, as the world’s appetite for avocados grows, production in other regions continues to grow along with it. One company that is helping to meet demand for the fruit is a Peruvian grower, the Ica-based Agrolatina. The difference with this grower is that they are working to build a healthy resilient ecosystem around their avocado orchards to ensure good pollination and they are doing this through Bee Better certification.
Ica, which is a name shared among a city, province and region, is located in southeastern Peru, between the Pacific ocean and the Andes mountain range. This is one of the most arid deserts in the world, with annual precipitation of less than one inch. Much of the moisture that supports crops and natural vegetation comes in the form of fog. Intermittent rivers are also a source of water for irrigation. The dry, sunny climate with low temperatures bottoming out well above freezing make the area suitable for growing many crops including grapes, asparagus, pomegranates and mangoes.
The legacy of the local Nazca culture and current generations of people who live in this environment share a knowledge of how to grow food, fuel and fodder in a desert. Indeed, smallholder farm plots generate and conserve much of the region’s biodiversity.
An emblematic and keystone species in this system is the Huarango tree (Prosopis pallida). This legume tree captures the moisture in fog and transfers some of it to its root zone, creating a more hospitable space for more plants, animals and people to live.
The distinct climate also means that the area’s wildlife and plant species are uniquely adapted to extreme aridity, many of them endemic – occurring nowhere else in the world. The intensive agriculture of Ica threatens this biodiversity, but also presents an opportunity to conserve and connect the existing strips of forest that naturally occur along watercourses. Local conservation organizations, Huarango Nature and Conservamos Ica (CONICA) have been documenting the plants and animals – including insects of the region.
Under the request of Agrolatina, Huarango Nature and CONICA conducted a baseline study to document the existing plants and animals around the fields of avocado trees. This study formed the foundation of a restoration plan to create and manage pollinator habitat, one of the primary criteria under Bee Better Certified’s Production Standards.
A key aspect of this habitat restoration project is the local native plant nursery that will provide the native plants needed to link the remnant forests that border the avocado orchards. This local nursery has grown with decades of community engagement, technical capacity building and partnerships between Huarango Nature; CONICA; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; and Sainsbury’s (a British grocery chain). The native plants sourced from this nursery will help support the diverse array of native pollinators that visit the region’s avocado orchards and provide their pollination services.
This Bee Better habitat will support the region’s native pollinators that we are indebted to for the avocados at our local markets and in our lunches because like many of the foods we depend on for nutrition and sustenance, avocado flowers require insect pollination.