The seemingly innocent avocado fruit is now the center of major environmental crisis of all time. Since its introduction in the 19th century, avocado’s popularity has been gaining traction among millions of Americans. Native to Central Mexico, avocado is still the main backbone of Mexico’s economic growth, with the country being the largest producer of avocado. With the revelation of its many health benefits like preventing obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and lowering cholesterol levels, you can see why avocados are becoming the new favorite fruit.
Environmental Effects of Avocado Farming
This never-ending demand for avocado is fueling avocado prices, which drives more and more farmers to avocado farming for the profit, regardless of its effects on the environment. Consequently, Mexican farmers are slowly clearing the pines to make way for this profitable fruit.
The local law enforcement says it’s trying to control this crisis but finds it tricky to catch the guilty farmers because they initially plant the avocado trees under a canopy, which they slowly cut as the trees grow and require more sunlight. People living far off cannot directly feel the effects of avocado farming. But for the locals, the reality is shocking.
Perhaps one of the worst human impacts on our forests is deforestation. Large pacts of land are required to sustain the rising avocado demands, and since farms are not enough, people are resorting to deforestation to acquire more farming space. Illegal thinning of pine trees is so rampant in the Michoacán region of Mexico that estimates show a shocking 30 to 40 percent of the forest is lost annually to pave way for avocado farming. The effects of this are obvious – rivers are running dry due to lack of adequate rainfall, wildlife and other organisms that are dependent on the forest are dying and becoming extinct, and drought is now becoming more pronounced than previous years.
Avocados are thirsty fruits. An avocado plantation requires a substantial amount of water to produce in abundance, twice as much as a regular forest. One report estimates that on average, you need approximately 75 gallons (283 liters) of water to produce about one pound (a half a kilogram) of avocado, which translates to about two to four medium-sized avocados. Imagine how much water is needed to produce the millions that feed the world. California, another huge producer of avocados, has been experiencing a series of droughts over the past few years. Farmers had to find another water solution – underground water. This creates a dent in the water table, thus affecting all the vegetation in that area.
Natural forests have a way of taking care of themselves. Unlike natural forests, avocados require pesticides to survive the pests that consume these fruits. And to get a high-quality grade avocado fruit that will fetch money, farmers must use tons of pesticides to protect these avocado orchards. The thing is, these pesticides risk being leached into the waterways that are used by aquatic, wildlife and human populations. Another evident side effect is allergic reactions such as sneezing and breathing problems during fumigation of the avocado orchards.
A Mexican cartel known as Caballeros Templarios controls the avocado industry in the Michoacán region. They demand tax on every avocado sold and torture or kill anyone who refuses to pay. The term ‘blood avocados’ now refers to the violation of human rights by these cartels who rule that part of the world. Reports say that the cartel makes close to $150 million each year from ‘avocado tax’ and owns 10 percent of all the avocado farms in that area. Mexico has become so dependent on this lucrative industry that exploits workers. They only receive meager earnings for their hard labor, not to mention the daily exposure to harmful chemicals and poor living conditions.
What’s the Way Forward?
In the United States, most of the avocado fruits come from California, Florida, and Hawaii. But, being the world’s biggest consumer of avocados, these three states cannot meet these demands. By 2016, American imported 80 percent of the avocados, which is a 40 percent increase in imports in just 10 years. These imports can trick you into thinking that avocados are always in season. However, the fact remains that avocados are seasonal fruits whose season starts in March and ends in late July in California. With this information, you can buy your avocados when they are in season and use other protein sources such as eggs when they are not in season.
This means less greenhouse gas emissions due to packaging and transportation of avocados from other countries. Although this may not apply due to people’s love for avocados in their meals, more is required to limit the side effects of avocado farming. Combine these effects with global warming, and we are setting a pathway for environmental disaster. And to be fair, the nutrients that avocados supply can easily be found in other vegetables, fruits, and nuts. For the sustainability of our planet, we need to find ways to benefit this planet, instead of stripping it off its nutrients and water source without giving something back in return. The change starts with you. Whatever little contribution you can make can go a long way into protecting our environment.
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