The humble avocado has been setting records for years as people of all ages and nationalities profess their love for the fatty foodstuff. What not a lot of people know however is that there are over 500 varieties of avocado, each with their own unique texture, size, taste and level of global demand. The worldwide avocado market in 2020 is worth a total of around $12 billion, with some analysts predicting that it could grow to around $15 billion before 2026. A lot of people herald the avocado as a sustainable alternative to meat production, but which countries are most affected by avocado fluctuations? With this much forecasted growth, what could the future hold for the countries with booming avocado crops in the present? How does industrial avocado farming measure up when it comes to sustainability? Perhaps most importantly what kind of an impact does the avocado craze have on the environment?
History Of Avocado Production, Imports And Exports
Last year, 15 countries accounted for 96% of worldwide avocado exports. This figure alone isn’t massively impressive but if we look at the underlying data there are some pretty startling numbers. For example, Mexico alone exported 42.9% of the world’s avocados for a total of $2.8 billion. Following behind them surprisingly was the Netherlands who provided close to 16% of worldwide avocado exports, despite being a non-producer. Even the countries which contributed small percentages to the overall market show massive upwards trends. Colombia has seen its own avocado exports grow 1607% since 2015 and in a similar timeframe the Dominican Republic has seen a growth of over 424%. Between 2015 and 2020 only one country
from this top 15 posted a decline in avocado sales, that country being South Africa who slid only half a percentage point.
It’s no surprise that the US dominates the charts when it comes to avocado imports, bringing in over 2.8 billion lbs of avocados in 2019 on top of its own local production. This figure has been on the increase since 2012. Avocado consumption in the states has risen from 220,000 tonnes per annum in 1985 to today’s numbers whichequate to an average consumption of just under 5 kilos per citizen.
The Impacts Of The Avocado Industry
The impacts of the avocado industry aren’t all directly linked to the environment. The social aspects for such a lucrative mainstream industry also seem quite wide-reaching. In what has now become a seasonal certainty, avocado up-and-comer New Zealand face yearly swathes of avocado bandits roaming the countryside. These gangs which have pretty convincing ties to organised crime steal the fruits which are then sold on the lucrative avocado black market and have in turn led to avocado farmers aggressively increasing their security. These thefts have been a huge issue for the country dating back over 8 years.
As the fruit is seemingly available year round, you would be forgiven for thinking that avocados were grown as a commodity, but unfortunately they are incredibly seasonal crops. This means that to keep up with demand most countries are heavily reliant on international shipping, which is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gasses. Studies conducted back in 2017 revealed that a pack of two avocados contributed 846.36g CO2, but that is not solely down to the transportation methods. Avocados must also be stored at extremely specific temperatures to control ripening. In reaction to the study, one of the organisers said that “When you consider everything that has gone into getting this fruit to the consumer – the cultivation, the ripening process and the transportation, then the size of the carbon footprint is not that surprising”.
Increased demand for avocados also forces farmers in Central America and further afield to increase their farming radius and therefore contribute even further to deforestation. A very specific example of such deforestation occurs in the Michoacan region of Mexico, where local pine and fir forests grow in areas which are perfect for avocados to flourish. This has led to huge amounts of illegal deforestation occuring to make room for the crop. Even legal avocado farming in Mexico has huge social impacts. Working conditions for Mexican farm workers got so bad at one point that a strike was held which contributed to a worldwide shortage. Avocado growth has also contributed to extreme water scarcity in multiple regions where groups have tried to cash in on the green gold.
So even though the avocado boom does take business away from the environmentally detrimental meat industry, the avocado industry also creates massive environmental concerns of its own. With the ever increasing global appetite for the superfruit, developing countries are forced to not only commit land and man power, but also water supplies to keep up with demand. The countries with high consumption rates rely upon shipping methods that not only pump CO2 into the atmosphere via dirty fuel, but also utilise energy consuming storage methods that are vital for ripening the avocados correctly. Avocado producers are regularly going into resource deficits to increase their avocado yields and the methods that are in place are clearly unsustainable. The developing countries which are experiencing tenfold increases in exportations are going to run out of feasible grow room and hydration in the very near future, which may lead us back into a worldwide shortage.