Analyzing the Impact of Agave Cultivation on Famine Risk in Arid Pre-Hispanic Northern Mexico

Model Description

Here, a simple model of a subsistence economy based solely on the cultivation of maize and agave is presented. While maize is an annual plant that humans can eat and store, agave is a perennial plant that can be used for multiple purposes: as edible materials yielding caloric values and as fiber materials for producing items like clothing, ropes, and baskets. 

This model tries to capture the essence of a cultivation strategy of a portfolio of plants that have differing levels of sensitivity toward common environmental disturbances, e.g., droughts. Because adult agave is less sensitive toward droughts than maize and are perennial, the combined cultivation strategy can deliver the complementarity effect – if the cropping of maize fails, societies can resort to consuming agave as the backup source of caloric values.

However, is agave cultivation alone sufficient for guaranteeing this complementarity effect? Can there be any 'hidden' biophysical geometry that determines whether or not the complementarity effect is actually realized? This model illustrates that the cultivation of agave can complement the shortage of maize only when climatic conditions meet a certain pattern. It turns out that this condition is met when the average rainfall is at intermediate levels with modest variance (e.g., standard deviation of 20% from mean precipitation). 

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