The dark side of avocados

From deforestation, to avocado crops being controlled by drug cartels, in some countries there is a dark side to one of our favourite fruits. Photo / Getty
From deforestation, to avocado crops being controlled by drug cartels, in some countries there is a dark side to one of our favourite fruits. Photo / Getty

With avocado "roses" dominating Instagram and green smoothies now a breakfast staple for many, its safe to say the world's avo obsession is still going strong.

But what is the avo demand doing for the environment and workers' rights?

In Mexico, one of the world's major avocado producers, the demand for the fruit is thought to be indirectly fuelling illegal deforestation and environmental degradation.

According to The Guardian, the problem is linked to the fact that in Mexico, it is now more profitable for farmers to grow avocado than most other crops.

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In Michoacan, the state that produces most of Mexico's (and arguably the worlds) avocados, growers are shunning the laws and thinning out pine forests to plant avocado trees instead.

At first glance, it doesn't look that bad - they are simply swapping one tree for another. But permanent forest doesn't need large amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, while avocado crops, on the other hand, need repeated cycles of chemicals.

Then there's the irrigation factor, which puts pressure on local water reserves. Avocados require lots of water, with one estimate saying the plants need 272 litres to grow about half a kilogram (2 or 3 medium-sized) avocados.

In California, avocados are now rivalling almonds as the area's most water-guzzling crop.

Avocado crops need lots of irrigation to grow, which can put a strain on local water supplies. Photo / Getty
Avocado crops need lots of irrigation to grow, which can put a strain on local water supplies. Photo / Getty

As well as environmental concerns, there are other issues wth Mexican avocados. It's unclear as to how much money the growers are making from avo crops, with the lucrative trade increasingly controlled by a drug cartel known as Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar), who are skimming more and more of the revenue.

With large avocado growing operations happening in Chile, Peru and the Dominican Republic, little is known about how environmentally and sutainably produced the fruit is, let alone the working conditions of the staff at large scale fruit farms.

Awareness group Banana Link works to educate people about the conditions in the global food industry. It documents Guatemala as the most dangerous area for fruit workers, with kidnapping, torture and murder not unheard of for those who speak out against poor working conditions. There is little to suggest Mexico's Caballeros Templarios are more sympathetic to employee's rights and environmentally aware.

As many have pointed out, the further away our food comes from, the less ability we have to monitor its origins and its impact on the environment and local workforce.

-nzherald.co.nz

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