Avocado, how hunger for guacamole is causing deforestation in Mexico

The increasing demand for avocado in the United States and Europe is contributing to deforestation in the Mexican state of Michoacán.

The avocado is a tropical fruit native to Central America in the flowering plant family Lauraceae. Its yellowish flesh, covered with a rough, dark green skin, has remarkable beneficial properties. Avocados are able to slow cell ageing, lower blood cholesterol levels, have anti-inflammatory properties, are rich in vitamin, potassium, magnesium, linoleic and omega-3 fatty acids. Its discovery by the Europeans dates back to the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. Since then, western hunger for avocados has exponentially increased, threatening the forests where these fruits grow.

avocado harvesting
The demand for avocados is increasing, so farmers, in order to satisfy it, are expanding their orchards, to the detriment of fir woods.

Why avocados are causing deforestation in Mexico

In Mexico, world’s major exporter of avocados, growing this plant causes loss of forest land of about 700 hectares every year. This according to a report carried out by Mario Tapia Vargas, researcher at Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research and published by The Guardian. To satisfy the export growth of avocados, farmers are planting increasingly young trees and cutting down centuries-old pine trees. These two plant species grow at the same height, on the mountains of the Mexican state of Michoacán. “Even where the farmers aren’t visibly cutting down forest, there are avocados growing underneath the pine boughs, and sooner or later they’ll cut down the pines completely”, Mario Tapia Vargas warns.

Water waste and too many pesticides

Avocado trees need large amounts of water, almost twice as much as fairly dense forest. Growing two or three fruits requires as many as 272 litres (every acre of avocado trees requires one million litres of water yearly). This inevitably results in the depletion of water resources because water is “taken” from the rivers and subsoil to the detriment of local populations, plants and wildlife. Furthermore, to boost the production of avocados farmers use very large amounts of pesticides and fertilisers that are poisoning aquifers and major ecosystems.

monarch butterflies
Monarch butterflies migrate from their summer grounds up to 5,000 kilometres to the south, which is unusual for animals of this size.

More avocados, less butterflies

Avocado production, which tripled in the last few years (while avocado exports rose tenfold), is threatening the survival of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). For this species of butterfly, famous for the incredible mass migration that every winter takes millions of specimens to California and Mexico, Michoacán forests are really precious. These insects indeed are used to spend the winter and mate in this area and due to deforestation they risk to modify their life cycle.

The value of avocados in Mexico

Trying to bring the avocado production back to normal preventing it to destroy Mexican forests won’t be easy. Cultivating this plant generates over 815 million dollars a year in Mexico and contributes to create new jobs in different stages of the production process. Therefore, avocados, which are named “green gold” for its growing global demand, are Mexico’s most valuable crop. The United States are world’s major importers of Mexican avocado (80 percent), but the European demand has remarkably increased too.

avocado tree
According to Greenpeace, avocado orchards devastate forests, threaten aquifers and the local population.

Making avocados more sustainable

To preserve the forests and local populations the Mexican authorities are intensifying controls to prevent deforestation in protected areas. Farmers are trying to use more sustainable farming methods, such as planting trees closer together, to reduce the amount of water used to grow them.

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