Have you noticed the growing presence of avocados in supermarkets, restaurants or food recipes? Smoothies, toast, salads, baked goods. For breakfast, lunch or dinner. The avocado has become the symbol of healthy gastronomy, the king of Instagram.
Its consumption has skyrocketed in the last decade. Only in Mexico (the world’s largest producer) production exceeded 2 million tons in 2018 and 3.16 million are expected by 2030, with profits of more than 4.6 billion, according to government estimates. Almost 5% of its GDP. But the social problems behind this avocado fever are dire. Mexican cartels have taken control of a business that is already as lucrative as drug trafficking. It is the new “green gold”. So much so that experts speak of a “conflict commodity”.
It all began in 1994, with the entry into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, the United States and Canada. The United States was already producing avocados in California, but this agreement opened the doors to imports from Mexico and boosted demand. Although it would take until 2006 and the drug war of then President Felipe Calderón for organized crime to extend its tentacles into avocados.
The state of Michoacán is the world’s leading producer: it generates around 1.5 million tons and profits of some 1.789 billion dollars annually. Today, due to organized crime, it is one of the most violent states in the country. Added to this are the devastating environmental effects. In Michoacán alone, the number of hectares of avocado orchards went from 3,000 in the 1960s to 180,000 in 2018, causing relentless deforestation.
Looking south, in Chile we find another example of the catastrophic consequences of unmeasured cultivation: environmental migration. The large quantities of water required by avocados (typical of tropical areas with high humidity, as is not the case in the Petorca region where this crop has been imposed) makes droughts increasingly pronounced, causing derisory amounts of water to remain for local populations, forcing them to migrate.
In Europe, Spain has become the main avocado producer, although without the social problems that have appeared in Mexico or Chile. Most avocados are grown in La Axarquia (Malaga), followed by Granada and Gran Canaria; although due to increasing demand, the crop is growing rapidly all along the southern Mediterranean coast.