Avocados – The “Blood Diamonds” in Latin America
Its flashy green color is everywhere on social networks, its creamy consistency makes vegan joys, and its nutritional properties are constantly being touted: the avocado is a star in Latin American exports to the United States and Europe. What nobody talks about though, is the risk of damaging our environment to a point of no return.
The increasing demand in these two continents is being blamed
increasingly, for the production-induced repercussions in Latin American forests and soils, particularly in Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia.
The Irish star JP McMahon, a Michelin star chef, was the first to call the avocados production rampage, a new “blood diamond”, in reference to the diamonds mined in Africa that fueled deadly conflicts on that continent.
He stopped offering this fruit in his restaurant in Galway (West of Ireland). Other leaders followed through. “It struck to me that avocados are associated with climate change and deforestation because it is a symbol of health in the western world,” he told AFP.
The “green gold” of Mexico – Mexico is the world’s leading producer of avocados. The majority of the plantations are located in the state of Michoacan (center) on the Pacific coast, which has a suitable volcanic soil.
In mid-January, a truckload of avocados was coming out of the state every six minutes to meet the demand for the Super Bowl, the grand finale of American football in the United States, which took place on February 3rd.
In 2018, more than 377,000 tonnes, or 80% of production, were sent to the northern neighbor, an increase of 13% over the previous year.
More than 57,000 tonnes are exported to other markets (+ 8%), according to figures from the Association of Producers and Exporters of Avocados of Mexico.
But illegal plantations of this “green gold” have led to deforestation of thousands of hectares in the state of nearly 5 million, according to researchers who denounce circumvention of the law. Local legislation allows for planting on forest land when trees have been cut or burnt.
“There is a very common practice among forest owners to plant avocados under trees, and gradually they cut trees to leave avocados exposed,” Luis Mario Tapia Vargas, researcher, told AFP. at the National Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research Institute (Inifap).
There are also fires. According to the researcher, 95% of them are intentional and can ravage 10,000 hectares in years of drought. As for illegal plantations, they reached 15,000 hectares in 2018. “New plantations are allowed against bribes,” he says.
APEAM spokesman Ramon Paz Vega told AFP that massive deforestation took place in 1997, before avocado production exploded. “This does not mean that the production of avocados does not affect the environment, it has,” he admits.
According to APEAM, this industrial production is an important source of jobs, 75,000 direct and 30,000 indirect. “Without this culture, many small farmers and agricultural workers would be emigrants or gang members,” says Paz Vega.
The water war in Chile – “There are 10-year-olds who have never seen water in the river,” laments Rodrigo Mundaca, founder of Modatima, an organization for access to water in the province of Petorca, in the center from Chile.
In the town of the same name, 150 km north of Santiago, are produced a large part of Chilean avocados for export.
For the 2017-2018 season, the country has produced nearly 225,000 tonnes of avocados, according to the producers’ association. About 30% was destined for local consumption and the rest was exported to the United States, Europe, China and Argentina.
But the inhabitants accuse the sector of being at the origin of the serious droughts which hit the region for ten years.
The cultivation of the avocado needs large quantities of water, about 100,000 liters per day and per hectare, according to Rodrigo Mundaca who is indignant that the 3,000 inhabitants of Petorca do not even have water “to meet their daily needs “.
The locality is estimated at 9,000 hectares of avocado plantations – up from 2,000 in the 1990s – 60% of which were in areas not originally dedicated to agriculture.
To ensure sufficient water, the industry drains rivers and digs wells to capture groundwater, explains Rodrigo Mundaca. According to him, large producing companies receive quality certificates that allow them to export abroad, but the rules are “easily circumvented,” he says.
He is now appealing to consumer ethics, as is JP McMahon. “Do we really need avocados all year round? We need to start thinking about where the food comes from,” says the Irish chef.
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