By Dana Gross
Do you remember the first time you tried an avocado? For many North Americans and Europeans, their first time exposure to the vitamin E rich fruit must have arrived sometime around the early 2000s. Certainly, the avocado didn’t just spring up out of nowhere, though it unquestionably seems to be just about everywhere now! (Try and find us five restaurants or cafes in your city that don’t have avocado as an attractive ingredient on their menus!) The fruit is a nutrient powerhouse and has become a healthy-diet staple – but are there consequences to this? Avocados have become a year-round must-have – who’s affected most from this creamy mass production?
Avocado has been a staple in Mexican cuisine for around 10,000 years. But as the fruit has grown in popularity around the world, so has demand, which has increased production. Unfortunately, the avocado boom has led to major deforestation in places like Jujucato, Mexico, which is an ideal region for avocado growth. The demand for avocado has grown to such extremes that in only 12 years, exports to the United States alone rocketed from $60 million to $1.5 billion – yes billion. While you may be thinking these figures sound great for the Mexican economy, in truth, the avocado workers rioted from such extremely low rates of pay. This is partially responsible for the increase in avocado prices we see in the supermarkets today.
Avocados are only a seasonal fruit in California, whereas in various regions in Mexico, there are suitable conditions to grow avocados all year round. Initially, there were strict regulations against fruits imported from Mexico, which were then lifted in the early 1990s. Loosening the law truly opened the avocado floodgates. By 2000, avocados imported by the United States rose to 40% however by 2014, it more than doubled to 85%!
The residents around Jujucato and Lake Zirahuen have expressed their disturbance with the recent years’ deforestation and the increased illness for those living close to the avocado orchards. Experts believe the drastic increase in student illness is directly linked to chemicals used on the farms running into their groundwater and rivers, which are utilized by the locals daily. Michoacán is another region in Mexico that contributes to the massive amounts of avocados exported to the United States and other countries around the world. Several of the avocado orchards in these regions are now a result of harmful illegal deforestation and are presumably run by mexican drug-gangs who realized the desirable economic return on such a high-demand product. They are said to have even burned down independent avocado orchards who refuse to work with the gangs.
Because the demand is ever so promising and continuously growing, more and more land and water are sought after in order to continue providing this richly green fruit. In only one region in Mexico, almost 1,000 hectares of forest have been torn down and converted into agricultural landscapes. On a not-so-small scale, this destroys vastly important ecosystems. On a larger scale however, if these numbers continue to grow, the entire world will be at risk. Like the bees, other insects, plants, and animals that depend on the pollen and natural resources of the forest to reproduce and flourish will quickly become endangered, not only in western Mexico but all around the world.
In countries like Israel, Chile, and South Africa the most alarming problem when it comes to avocado orchards is water. An avocado farm needs an estimated 2,000 liters of water to produce one kilo of avocados. It’s been reported that rivers have dried up in regions in Chile known for mass-producing avocados. Illegal underground water systems have been discovered, which supply water to several private plantations. The Chileans living around these regions report high instances of illness due to extreme drought, which in turn forces them to use dirty water – if any at all.
In recent years China has joined the avocado consumption market, whose demands are ever-increasing with growing popularity. Chile, Mexico, and Peru are some of China’s largest avocado suppliers and in recent years, Columbia has been trying to uncover ways to access the Chinese market with their avocado production. And though, many growers claim this is a fantastic opportunity for their countries economy, the real question is, who is reaping the benefits and is the vastly expanding market truly safe and sustainable?
So what can you do?
First and foremost, the best thing you can do is be educated on the subject. We all love avocados, and while we might not be ready to give them up entirely, one way to make a positive impact would be to only purchase or eat avocados when they’d be in season in California – from May to August – and to eat them less often. According to HAC Dietitian, Jeannie Versagli, good substitutes for avocado include chia seeds, hummus, and nut butters such as almond and cashew.