Ordinary Mexicans struggle to afford avocados

So many avocados are exported at such high prices that it's difficult for many locals to buy this staple ingredient.

Mexico is facing a domestic avocado shortage. So many of the popular luscious fruits are being exported to the United States and elsewhere that locals are unable to afford what used to be a staple ingredient in their diet. The situation has gotten so bad that the secretary of the economy, Ildefonso Guajardo, is quoted in The Guardian:

“It seems laughable, being able to bring in avocados from other areas at a time when we are so successful in exporting [avocados]… but we’re not ruling it out.”

There are a few factors at play. Much of 2017’s avocado crop in the lead-producing state of Michoacán was destroyed by a hailstorm in March and won’t recover until November, when trees will flower once again. Fresh Plaza reported at the time:

“The extent of the destruction has been such that it has endangered the health of avocado trees in Tancítaro, which grows almost 20 percent of Michoacán's total annual production, which in turn represents 85 percent of Mexico's total production.”

Prices have climbed because the fruits fetch so much money on the international market. Exports to the U.S. are up 15 percent each year. Bloomberg reported that the wholesale price for a box of Mexican avocados sold in the U.S. was more than double what it was a year ago, “the highest in data going back 19 years.”

This makes good money for Mexico – even more than petroleum, hence the nickname “green gold” – but leaves ordinary Mexicans in the lurch. Avocados regularly sell for 80 pesos per kilogram (US$4.40) in local markets, which is the equivalent of one day’s earnings at minimum wage – hardly an affordable price for most households.

As a result, “individual consumption has slipped from roughly 9kg a year to 7.5kg, and many ordinary Mexicans say that avocados are simply too expensive for them.” Home cooks are having to revamp recipes for many of their favorite foods, such as ceviche, tacos, tostadas, and guacamole, leaving the avocados for special occasions only. Taco stand owner Marisela Cuevas told The Guardian her avocado sauces have become a luxury.

avocado toastMarco Verch -- There is such thing as too much popularity./CC BY 2.0

This is, unfortunately, the ugly side of globalization, when a basic commodity is no longer affordable for the population that originally depended on it. It also speaks to the skewed perception of many ‘northerners’ who import an exotic ingredient from a distant warm climate to eat on a daily basis. (See avocado toast above.) This has the unpleasant side effect of generating a good-sized carbon footprint for transportation, as well as the loss of potential business for local growers, whose veggies and fruits may be less exciting than avocados, but are arguably more nutritious and definitely fresher.

Obviously, it is hard to imagine a local substitute for avocado when one lives in a cold climate – it certainly takes the prize for versatility – but surely we should be working toward tailoring our diets to whatever one’s local region can produce, and importing the occasional special treat from elsewhere.

Read on our sister site MNN: Don't bash millennials about avocados -- blame their parents

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

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