Avocados: beware of appearances!
The avocado became a very popular product worldwide during those past few years generating a lot of money due to a high demand. The reasons are its taste, its nutritional benefits and its look for posts on social media. However, its production is not as attractive as its appearance. Indeed, it causes negative impacts on the environment and biodiversity as well as bad social effects on local populations. All of this can make us, the consumers, think twice when preparing an avocado on toast and post it on Instagram with hashtags like #govegan or even #thereisnoplanetB.
Where the “green gold” come from?
If we have a look on Instagram it is possible to see millions of pictures of avocados: guacamole, avocado on toast, just cut in half, or cosmetics. There are so many ways to use avocados. It is also a good alternative for vegetarians and vegan people.
A warm climate is necessary to grow avocados. With almost 6 million tons of avocados produced in 2016, Mexico is the leader on the avocado market followed by the Dominican Republic and Peru. Indonesia, Kenya, Columbia, Brazil are as well big avocados producers. The United States has also avocados plantation mostly in California. In Europe, Spain is the biggest producer.
However, communities in Mexico are suffering due to this growing interest for the green fashionable fruit. Indeed, the popularity of avocado brings a lot of money, but the downsides are greater than the advantages. The negative impacts on the environment are big and the social conditions linked to its production are not better.
The impact of avocados production on the environment
On an environmental level, the production of avocados is not that different from the production of palm oil, sugar, coffee, almond milk for instance. However, it is one of the worst especially due to the ridiculous amount of water needed to make avocados grow. Around 600 liters of water are required to produce only one kilogram of avocados which represent usually 3 avocados. To give you an idea, 45 liters of water are needed to produce 1 kilogram of broccoli.
Avocados plantation is also contributing to illegal deforestation, soils erosion, pollution, and indirectly global warming then climate change.
The world’s avocado capital is Michoacàn in Mexico. However, the law is not respected. Forests are being destroyed in order to plant avocado trees instead and a lot of pesticides are used.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed a study that was showing the impressive development of agriculture lands dedicated to the production of avocado in the world. It is estimated that between 600 and 1000 hectares of forest are destroyed each year in Mexico.
Ramon Paz Vega, the spokeperson for the Mexican association of avocado producers and exports (APEAM) said “we are striving to find a balance that allows us to maintain the advantages and income but also develop a more sustainable dorm of production.”
The economic and social impact behind the production of avocados
Between 2012 and 2016, the global importation of avocados has grown by 21% according to the International Trade Center.
What’s happening in Mexico?
The popularity of avocados is a lucrative business that created a lot of jobs in Mexico. Nevertheless, a big part of the production is controlled by organized crime gangs and drugs cartels like the Caballeros Templarios or the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
In Michoacàn it is more profitable for farmers to produce avocados than other crops. The “green gold” is now more called the “blood guacamole” by the local population. Some farmers are threatened or kidnapped if they do not want to share the money they are making on their production. The landowners are forced to pay low wages to their employees which allows criminal gangs to get more profits. Local and national authorities are trying to overcome this situation.
This means that if you are buying an avocado from Mexico there are big chances that you are giving money to criminal’s organizations.
What about the other producers?
The issue is that, in countries like Chile, Peru or Columbia, we do not know enough about the working conditions. However, there is a high probability that workers are underpaid or working under very difficult conditions.
Should we stop eating avocados?
Avocado is of course not the only food to blame for being bad for the environment. It is always difficult to know how to make ethical choices “but when we pick up a fashionable import like avocado we need to be sure that it doesn’t only benefit our personal health and wellbeing , but also that of the of the communities that grow it”.
However, we do not need to stop eating avocados forever. For examples, in Europe we can buy avocados that come from Spain. This means that the travelling was shorter and as it is part of the European Union, the respect of the law should be more controlled. It is also possible to look for Fairtrade label. It guarantees better working conditions and fair wages
We need just to consume avocado more moderately to make the demand decrease and improve the way avocados are produced on any level.
All this considered, we have many different alternatives to consume better in order to end abuses and overexploitation in the avocado field or other fields. We just need to open our eyes to how the food arrives to our supermarkets.
key words : avocados, Mexico, plantation, production, environment, working conditions, wages, economy