(BPT) - Pollinator species like birds, bees and butterflies are essential to the survival of plants that bring us fruits and vegetables. But many of these species are increasingly in danger. Pollinator Week, celebrated internationally June 21–27, is a time to spread the word about what can be done to protect these vital species.
Monarch butterflies, widely recognized for their orange and black wings, are among those that play a key role as a North American pollinator. Although this well-known species has been named the state insect of seven U.S. states and is an important cultural symbol for the people of Michoacán, Mexico, monarchs are under severe threat. In fact, this iconic butterfly population has declined by 90% since the 1990s.
While a range of factors including severe weather and drought, mass use of pesticides, and the climate crisis have impacted the monarch population, loss of habitat is one of the most pressing concerns. Each year between November and March, hundreds of millions of monarchs from the eastern U.S. and Canada migrate to the mountain hillsides of Michoacán, Mexico, where they reside in oyamel fir forests.
In the past 25 years, however, there has been a severe decline in these forests. In 1996, the oyamel fir trees that provide monarchs’ winter roost covered 45 acres. By 2013, this was down to just 1.6 acres — an area of land hardly larger than an American football field.
In addition to a home for Monarch butterflies, Michoacán is the central hub of Mexican avocado production and harvest that drives a thriving industry. The region is home to approximately 29,000 small and family-owned avocado farms that export their fruit to the U.S. Michoacán is the only location in the world where avocados can bloom 365 days out of the year due to its rich volcanic soil, natural irrigation and unique topography.
Although the vast majority of avocado orchards in Michoacán are not in close proximity to the forests in which the monarchs roost each winter, the Mexican Hass Avocado Importers Association (MHAIA) joined the fight for the monarch’s survival by becoming the primary sponsor of Forests for Monarchs (FFM), a nonprofit devoted to monarch conservation.
“Confronting the threats to this endangered species is supremely challenging and requires input from a variety of stakeholders,” said Michael Hamm, Forests for Monarchs Board President. “MHAIA provides critical financial sponsorship that enables our mission to continue.”
Since 2017, MHAIA and FFM have positively impacted more than 1,778 acres across 37 communities in Michoacán. A new Monarchs Matter Documentary produced by FFM tells the story of the landowners and community leaders combating climate change through reforestation and the family in Michoacán making it all happen.
“The mutually beneficial relationship between farmers and the ecosystem is something that cannot be overlooked,” said Ron Campbell, executive director of MHAIA. "Environmental protection and responsible farming practices not only benefit Michoacán farmers and avocado consumers, but it also protects the region's vital species."
Together the organizations have planted more than 800,000 trees and are on track to plant 1 million trees by September of this year, equating to 2,222 acres of restored forest land. In addition, the organizations launched a program to educate farmers and landowners in local communities, some who rely on avocado crops, on the importance of preserving forests as well as how natural pollinator plants are critical to sustainable, responsible and successful farming.
During Pollinator Week, and every week, the Mexican avocado industry understands the importance of cultivating and sustaining our environment. Most Americans agree. According to a recent survey by Avocados From Mexico, 93% of Americans feel that it is very or somewhat important for produce companies to focus on efforts to help the environment. As the avocado industry continues to grow and provide the ever-popular fruit to the U.S., it has taken on the neighbor-like responsibility of helping the struggling species repopulate by protecting the monarch reserve. Its impact will last for years to come.