Once spurned for having too many calories, avocados have spiked in popularity throughout the U.S. and Canada due to their reputation as a “healthy fat” that also doubles as a superfood. But the growing demand, which has led produce brokers and retailers to look beyond California to Mexico. According to an Associated Press investigation, the high prices that avocados can fetch for consumers has led to the deforestation of Mexico’s historic pine forests.
The AP’s Mike Stevenson interviewed representatives of NGOs and government agencies to gauge the avocado’s impact on the local landscape and communities. As in California, avocado trees in Mexico and other Latin American countries tend to thrive in the same microclimates also friendly to pine trees. And as consumers covet more avocados and are willing to pay more for them, growers in Mexico are culling pine tree groves and replacing them with trees growing the Hass variety, which are popular in North America for their texture and length of time at which they can keep in storage.
But the problems festering in Mexico are that avocado trees require almost twice as much water as the trees native to the region, and the unchecked use of agro chemicals are also putting local citizens’ health at risk. Many growers, in a chess move to evade local authorities, are at first planting avocado trees within the pine forests, eventually cutting the native trees in order to allow the new trees to score more sunlight.
Most of the deforestation is occurring in Michoacán, a state slightly smaller than West Virginia that stretches from central Mexico to the Pacific coast. Agriculture is one of the largest pillars of the state’s economy, with almost one-third of the population working within farming, forestry and fishing. The state’s ecology offers plenty of eco-tourism opportunities, with the annual arrival of as much as one billion Monarch butterflies from Canada making the journey to the state’s pine forests. That phenomenon, however, is at risk due to the illegal deforestation that is ongoing due to the continued demand for avocados.
And it is not just Canada and the U.S. fueling this demand. Estimates suggest that Mexico supplies 30 percent of the world’s avocados, with additional overseas markets including Europe and Asia.
Stevenson’s report suggests that local officials are taking this environmental threat more seriously, and the researchers he interviewed suggest deforestation is on the decline for now. But the links between avocados and deforestation have posed challenges elsewhere in Latin America. The decrease in the size of Chile’s forests have in part been caused by the increase in the country’s exports of avocados and has also threatened its water supplies. Limited arable land in Peru, which is also a major avocado exporter, has also led to deforestation. Meanwhile, consumers insist on having this food year round, instead of relegating their consumption to California’s growing season, which at its longest stretches from February to October.
Image credit: Greenpeace Mexico
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.