MEXICO CITY- Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados, but it faces several challenges. The country has been dealing with violence and deforestation, which has led to fewer avocado trees in the region.
Until last week, avocado producers have been able to separate avocados from the conflictive environment that produces them – until a threat to a US agricultural inspector essentially halted their exports.
In addition to producers suffering extortion from the hands of organized crime and loggers chopping down pine forests for avocado fields, another threat emerges: campaigns for greener competition or even a boycott.
The majority of those who advocate for more sustainable avocados refrain from calling for a boycott.
Gareth Elliott, a New Jersey restaurant manager who runs the Facebook page ‘Blood Avocados’, said, “It (the avocado) is a very large part of their economy and, you know, banning them entirely would not be beneficial” for local farmers already struggling.
“If there were more environmental studies and these crops were grown responsibly, we might be able to solve this problem together.”
Even as growers in Mexico report having to pay drug gangs thousands of dollars for every acre of orchard, the association of Mexican avocado producers and packers have not taken any action to solve the problems.
Those who refuse to pay risk having their families abducted, murdered, and returned in pieces.
Reports stated that the producers’ associations have spent millions of dollars on Super Bowl commercials, but they have never developed a serious certification programme that would assure consumers the avocados they buy have not been subsidized by drug cartels – the same alleged cartels that flood the United States with deadly fake fentanyl pills that look like Xanax, Adderall, or Oxycodone.
Furthermore, they have not yet created a plan to ensure that avocados sold in US supermarkets aren’t grown on illegally logged mountain slopes that once housed pine forests, destroying local water supplies.
In response to inquiries about the issue, neither group responded. According to Mexico’s president, the suspension of avocado imports was part of a conspiracy against Mexico.
It is this kind of certification and information program that many activists are calling for.
As Elliott pointed out, it may also help raise awareness, since many people may not be aware of the issue on the whole.
“Advertising how consumers purchase things speaks a lot louder about American policy or even global policy than protests sometimes do.”
The reluctance of Elliott to boycott could vanish if illegal logging and avocado planting reach into the most important monarch butterfly reserves in Michoacan state.
Planters have so far only nibbled around the buffer zones of the mountaintop pine forests, where butterflies spend the winter before heading north. Currently, avocados cannot grow on mountaintops due to the cold and high temperatures, but climate change may change that, as well.
“The Monarch butterflies … they don’t have another option to hibernate elsewhere,” Elliott said, “I don’t think the Americans are going to want to say goodbye to monarch butterflies.”
“I think that would likely be the line they’ll draw, or at least they’ll say, ‘I’ll have more expensive avocados.”
Aniar, Cava, and Tartare, restaurants run by chef J.P. McMahon in Ireland, have already started avoiding avocados.
The perception of avocados as healthy as opposed to its impact on the environment and society, McMahon explains “It’s a pole apart. It’s not at all like that.”
AN UPHILL STRUGGLE
According to Juliana Villegas, vice-president of exports for the trade promotion agency ProColombia, Colombian exporters see the United States as a great market with great potential.
“Avocado production in Colombia offers some tremendous opportunities and advantages.”
“Because of our agricultural land, Villegas said, “we are in a privileged position.”. “It is very large. We currently have millions of acres available without deforestation. This is an opportunity we should seize.”
Mexican farmers, like their counterparts in Latin America, have spent almost five centuries looking for a miracle crop that would pull them out of poverty, so any loss of income would be devastating.
Sugar, rubber, bananas, natural dyes, coffee, cacao – the stuff from which chocolate is made – have all come and gone, but they never fulfilled that promise.
Either they could only be grown on large plantations with slave labour, or they could be grown more cheaply elsewhere, or plant diseases and synthetic substitutes meaning the crops were doomed.
For Mexico, avocados have been that miracle crop for the past 25 years. With only a few acres of avocado trees, a farmer can send his children to college or buy a new pickup truck to bring his product to the market and avoid middlemen, which no other crop can offer.
It’s not just U.S. consumers at the front lines. Many isolated, threatened activists in Mexican villages are fighting illegal logging and the expansion of avocado orchards on former forest land.
Last year, activist Guillermo Saucedo organized farmers’ patrols to prevent illegal logging and unauthorised avocado orchards in Villa Madero, Michoacan.
In May, he recruited 60 to 70 individuals to participate in patrols. However, on December 6, Saucedo was kidnapped, beaten, and threatened by drug cartel gunmen who protect or invest in avocado orchards.
It was this week that Saucedo noticed an immense water retention pond like those dug by avocado growers in a hamlet near Villa Madero, but he isn’t optimistic that the government will intervene.
“The National Guard doesn’t do anything,” Saucedo said. “The only thing that can stop them is the people themselves, by protesting.”