By Lynn Davison
Oct. 1, 2020

Borderlands Restoration Network (BRN) has been named the winner of the first-ever Connectivity Challenge offered by the Salazar Center at Colorado State University. As the winner, BRN will receive  $100,000 to implement its Bacanora for Bats: Binational Conservation and Sustainable Agave Spirits Initiative. 

BRN was one of five finalists from across the nation competing for the sole prize. In creating the Connectivity Challenge, the Salazar Center’s said, “our planet faces existential threats driven by human-induced climate change, species extinction, and rapid population growth, all contributing to increasing pressure on and fragmentation of rural and urban landscapes.

The video pitch that won Borderlands and their partners Colectivo Sonora Silvestre the grant challenge.
Video courtesy Borderlands Restoration Network

Nectar-feeding bats rely on wild agave plants for sustenance as they migrate through the binational Arizona/Sonora borderlands, and in turn serve as their primary pollinators. Agaves in the region are disappearing due to development and increased production of the regional agave distillate, bacanora. 

Alongside BRN’s existing efforts during 2020 and 2021 with Bat Conservation International to grow out and plant 1,750 Agave palmeris from seeds, BRN will now address threats to agaves due to bacanora production through creation and implementation of a sustainability certification. It’s a win, win, win for agaves, bats, and bacanora producers. 

BRN’s partners for the project are the nonprofit Colectivo Sonora Silvestre, located in Hermosillo, who will manage on the ground work in Sonora, and the Consejo Sonorense Regulador del Bacanora (Sonoran Bacanora Regulatory Agency) who has asked the Borderlands team to develop and implement the certification program. The BRN team will collaborate with ranchers producing bacanora, small-scale producers, consumers, regulators, and scientists, to implement a sustainability certification, changing how bacanora is produced, and address impacts on bats and local communities, while providing a model for sustainability regulation which can be adjusted and implemented in other regions of agave spirit production. 

The $100,000 will be spent over two years beginning this fall. Roughly half will be spent in Mexico and half in the U.S. on staffing for facilitating stakeholder meetings, surveying and mapping agaves, and developing and rolling out the certification standards. 

Winning the Connectivity Challenge is truly a big deal on many levels. The competition was impressive, including larger national and international environmental organizations. 50 proposals were submitted, according ot Claverie.  The recognition and new relationships that come from the award will help BRN advance its mission to grow a restorative economy by rebuilding healthy ecosystems, restoring habitat for plants and wildlife, and reconnecting our border communities to the land through shared learning. 

The prize money will help convert a great idea into a great solution for agaves, bats, bacanora producers, and consumers. The timing is perfect to have a major impact as the bacanora industry is so young. The project will also strengthen BRN ties and partnerships in Mexico. 

These days border issues are too often viewed through the lens of walls, division, strife, and violence. The Bacanora for Bats project offers an alternative, restorative lens that celebrates the cultural and ecological heritage of our region. As the lead for the project Francesca Claverie said, “we are beyond thrilled and so proud of our whole organization.”

But in the end, is it really a surprise that a few Patagonians with a few Sonoran friends cooked up a way to support sustainable bacanora production?