Avocados are driving deforestation in Mexico

avocado in blue dish
CC BY 2.0 Elin Schönfelder

It sounds eerily reminiscent of palm oil. Demand for the luscious green fruit is resulting in expanded groves, at the cost of native forest.

You might want to think twice about buying avocados the next time you’re at the grocery store. The delicious green fruit has become hugely popular in recent years, topping many a salad and burrito, not to mention its glorious transformation into guacamole, but unfortunately, the path avocados travel from Mexican groves to American mouths is not nearly as smooth as its texture.

Most avocados sold in the United States and Canada come from a region in western Mexico called Michoacán, that is responsible for 80 percent of avocados exported worldwide. Unfortunately, these avocados are a leading cause of deforestation in the country, according to an announcement made by the attorney general’s Office for Environmental Protection on Monday.

Talia Coria, who heads the office’s division in Michoacán, said that nearly 50,000 acres of forest land are converted to agricultural uses each year in the state, and that between 30 and 40 percent of the annual forest loss is due to avocados, about 15,000 to 20,000 acres. (Previous deforestation, before avocados were so popular, happened at a much lower rate—around 1,700 acres per year between 2000 and 2010.)

Now that demand and prices of avocados are on the rise, however, growers are eager to do whatever they can to reap the benefits of avocado farming, even if it means destroying the lush forests that are so valuable to the region. Business Insider explains why this is alarming:

“Experts say a mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as fairly dense forest, meaning less water reaches Michoacán's legendary crystalline mountain streams on which trees and animals in the forests depend. Species like the monarch butterfly also rely on Michoacán forest as habitat, though Coria said there does not appear to have been damage to the monarch wintering grounds from avocado expansion yet.”

Unfortunately the state suffers from extreme poverty, and is notorious for its production of synthetic drugs. It is home to awful gang violence that led the Wall Street Journal in 2014 to suggest that avocados from the region are tainted, “blood avocados—the Mexican equivalent of the conflict diamonds that are sold from war-torn parts of Africa.”

Under these circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that environmental protection will take priority over survival in the minds of local farmers, but hopefully the attorney general’s announcement will generate greater concern and spur on important conversations.

Coria said: “We are going to search for a way .... to ensure that all avocados exported are legal, and that the environment has not been affected by their production. The avocado growers appear to be convinced that we have to find options for conserving the environment.”

Tags: Farming | Food Security | Fruits & Vegetables | Mexico

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