Blood Avocado

America is obsessed with the avocado. This large green berry, thought to originate in South Central Mexico, has taken the country by storm. This lush fruit high in fats and vitamins seems to occupy almost every restaurant in the country and it shows. Where the United States was once consuming a billion avocado a year in the year 2000, the numbers reached a staggering 4.5 billion by the year 2015.

While the avocado has been hailed for its deliciousness and health benefits, it has also seen an increase in consumption due to shifts in eating habits. More people than ever are turning to a diet high in vegetables and low in meat consumption. While some people seem to believe that the green superfood is a cruelty-free answer to their diets, the facts associated with avocados beg to differ.

Michoacán Mexico is notorious for its immense avocado empire. In fact, the majority of exported avocados from Mexico come from this exact area. Mexican farmers turn a higher profit selling avocados than any other product. Unfortunately, this fact has also been exploited by criminal organizations such as Los Caballeros Templarios (The Templar Knights) in Michoacán. This drug cartel along with many others extorts avocado farmers. If a farmer fails to pay, the drug cartels resort to kidnappings with demands for ransom which many times result in the farmer’s death. Although it is difficult to fully quantify the effects, official statistics approximate that there have been 8,258 murders between the years 2006 and 2015.

avacado2

In a desperate attempt to meet the ever-growing demand for avocados and pay off drug cartels, Mexican farmers have resorted to cutting down more and more of their pine forests. While the Mexican government has laws to prevent illegal deforestation, the farmers have found their own ways around these laws. Many farmers plant the avocado trees underneath the pine trees and slowly remove the pine trees one at a time when each avocado plant reaches maturity. This slow removal of pine trees makes tracking deforestation extraordinarily difficult.

The loss of pine trees is beginning to affect the Mexican ecosystem. The monarch butterflies use these grounds for winter migration as well as many other organisms. A mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as a densely packed forest. When you combine this with the many chemicals that go into an avocado orchard and the sheer amount of resources used to pack and ship the avocado, you get an astounding detrimental effect on the local population.

While many government officials and local populace want to end the vicious effects that have emerged from the increase in demand for avocado, most do not have the resources. A select few villages have formed vigilante groups to keep out the cartels; however, with the growing number of drug cartel’s in the area, this solution seems to be temporary at best.

Main-importers-of-avocados-worldwide-2016-17-05-08Many people believe that the solution lies in marketing. The United States imports more avocados than the next six largest importing countries combined. In the 1980’s NAFTA lifted trade restrictions between the United States and Mexico. With Michoacán being the only Mexican State approved by the USDA to export avocados to the America’s, this city became a hub of economic growth as well as crime.

If large consumers of avocado like the United States cut down on their consumption, do you think cities like Michoacán can be saved?

Should the United States actively try to fix issues that they may have indirectly caused, or does the solution lie within the Mexican government’s policies?

What are other viable solutions to this problem?

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/may/18/avocado-police-tancitaro-mexico-law-drug-cartels

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/aug/10/avocado-illegal-deforestation-mexico-pine-forests

http://www.agmrc.org/commodities-products/fruits/avocados/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/01/22/the-sudden-rise-of-the-avocado-americas-new-favorite-fruit/?utm_term=.5edba059710e

https://www.cbs.nl/en-gb/news/2017/19/netherlands-second-largest-avocado-importer-worldwide

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2016/7/12/1546610/-Avocados-and-the-Mexican-Drug-Cartels

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27 thoughts on “Blood Avocado

  1. This is really interesting and not something that I ever would have thought to be connected to an avocado. I think that spreading awareness of the cost of the production of the avocado is important; lots of times, people (including myself) are simply unaware that the choices they make have impact on things outside their scope, and with this information could come change. If Michoacán was not the only state able to export avocados to the US, then some of the environmental strain could be lifted off of this one area. As for the cartels, I do not doubt that America’s demand of the avocado could have impacted the exploitation of the farms, but I am unsure of what level of involvement in that area would be beneficial for both the Mexican government and our own.

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    1. Supply and demand is definitely the driving force on what goes on here. The US has created a huge demand that can only be met by Michoacán, the only provider of Mexican Avocados to the US. I think a solution should come from the USDA allowing other sources of Mexican Avocado produce to be sold in the US. This action would alleviate environmental strains within Michoacán and better distribute the Avocado farming across the country. Unfortunately, I doubt that a city like Michoacán can be saved from the cartels already established. This is a much bigger issue than a small green fruit. I don’t necessarily think that its the direct result of any United States’ wrong doing that caused the formation of this cartel, but problems within the country as a whole. Other than allowing different parts of Mexico to sell their Avocado product in the US, I doubt we can/ should do much to fix the cartel problem.

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  2. I would have never connected crime to avocado production. I think that awareness of the subject could go a long way. As for the specific city, Mexico itself is very corrupt and I don’t think it’ll ever really change. To be honest, I think that the deforestation issue is the last of their worries. They have much bigger issues within their government and police system that nothing ever gets done. In order to have an environmental impact in Mexico, I think their political system needs to be fixed first before any laws or policies could actually be enforced. I don’t think the United States should get involved because its not really our position to. If it weren’t avocados, it’ll be another food or drug that is causing harm to the environment. The work starts with their leaders in charge.

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  3. Very interesting read! I do not feel as though top avocado consuming countries like the US should actively intervene. By that, I mean that I do not think the mentioned countries should purposely decrease consumption in order to relieve farmers from being a target, because the economic benefits outweigh that. However, I do feel as though consuming countries may lend a helping hand in developing policies to protect the farmers and their land. One would think that even if law enforcement lacks ethical motivation to protect farmers, they would be doing anything that they can to protect a valuable asset to the economy. I agree with Chris in that it’s possible that if production of avocados took place in various places within the country rather than a central location, the Michoacán farmers would be less of a target. That is, if a larger growing range is feasible within the country considering agricultural conditions.

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  4. I never would have guessed that avocado production would be linked to cartels. It is unfortunate that avocado farmers are exposed to extreme risks like extortion and even execution, and that fact will definitely play into my consumption of avocados in the future (not much of a fan of them anyway). However I don’t think this information should be used as a way to get Americans to consume less avocado, as the profit margins for farmers are higher when they sell avocados as opposed to anything else. I think this article indirectly indicts the Mexican government of, at the very least, incompetence concerning dismantling of criminal organizations and the implementation of comprehensive public safety measures, and I think more focus and effort should be focused on improving the government in Mexico.

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  5. Like others have said, I do not think this problem is confined to the demand of avocados specifically. I think these cartels and deforestation trends will attach themselves to whoever and whatever has the best opportunity to make money. However, I do believe realizing the effects of avocado demand and other product demands are important to spotlight these dangers and problems within countries. Besides decreasing demand, it doesn’t seem like the US can do much other than trying to diversify where the avocado imports come from, or only import from sustainable, non-cartel related farms, which does not seem like a realistic strategy. Other than that, it looks to be a problem Mexico needs to solve internally. And with tensions between Mexico and the US rising, it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics of trade evolve.

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  6. I am truly not surprised. We see this kind of connection all the time, especially in connection with American fads. Coltan, for example, is the leading cause of forced child soldiering in the Congo- the main user of coltan from this area is Apple and Microsoft, as they use coltan to make screens for iPhones, computers, and other devices. Coffee is another major contributor to socioeconomic and environmental impacts across the globe. Mass commodification is a huge problem within American culture, and I am not shocked that yet another American commodity is connected to cruelty.

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  7. My avocado toast…I’ll never look at it the same again…

    But seriously, I think deep within the story of the avocado is a country’s inability to enforce environmental laws on the books. The United States, despite out political situation, regularly enforces environmental laws and prevents destruction from illegal deforestation and point source pollution. Countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and many African nations have a problem of balancing environmental considerations and a possible booming export market. For example, Indonesia never thought palm oil would take off. However, many corporations in the mid-2000’s found palm oil to be a great substitute to reduce fat in their food like Doritos. Indonesia has anti-deforestation books on the ground, yet have a hard time enforcing with so much money on the table. Sadly, more and more of these issues are becoming intertwined with American produce and food.

    Poor avocado toast…

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  8. I had no idea about this before today. The Mexican drug cartels are a terrible problem for Mexico however I don’t see how cutting back on avocado consumption will help to weaken their organizations. I think that it will take greater efforts to weaken their traditional sources of income before conditions will improve for these people. If america stopped importing avocados it would only serve to further impoverish farmers who are already in a desperate situation.

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  9. Thanks for posting this! I, like many others it seems, had no idea of the major environmental and social impacts of avocado production. It seems that in general, there is a lack of awareness of the negative impacts that our daily food choices have and a lack of reliable and consistent information on the issue. I think that a potential way to combat this issue is to educate grocery stores and restaurant owners on this issue and encourage them to then in turn use this information to make decisions on the food they choose to sell and serve to their customers. This would then educate consumers and potentially influence them to give their business stores and restaurants that support ethical and sustainable food production. I think that currently, since so much controversy and confusion surrounds this issue, people are often discouraged from taking part in the solution because they are unsure if their actions are making an impact or not. If we attempt to well educate a smaller more focused population (restaurant and grocery store owners) it might eliminate some of the controversy and confusion surrounding food production practices.

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  10. This is not a shock to me at all. It seems as if this sort of trend happens throughout low-income countries with a weak central government. I do not think decreasing the US’s demand of the fruit is feasible, as it has gained attention as a super food in recent years; this is a trend that America seems to be following more and more. Like others have said in these comments, I believe the problem lies within the central government. The Mexican Government is clearly unable to control the crime in their country, it is something that we hear about on a daily basis. If they were able to gain some control, I think it would be wise for them to spread the wealth of avocado farming throughout the states to handle deforestation. As far as the cartels go, once again, they’re in need of a stronger central government in order to put military pressure on these groups.

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  11. I never would have figured avocado farmers to be targeted by drug cartels for extortion, but looking at it in a new light; it makes sense. I wonder if we will see a rise of a new set of “Autodefensas” backed by avocado farmers.
    Avocado farmers illegally clear cutting land reminds me of poor chocolate farmers around the world. Chocolate farmers often clear cut land in hopes of striking it rich by growing chocolate. Similar situation, but not exact.

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  12. After reading this article and actually putting some thought into the matter, I can see where this is a problem. With such a highly valuable product in a country that doesn’t have the same economy or infrastructure as a country such as the US, it doesn’t surprise me that someone will try to exploit this product. I don’t think as a nation, we will cut down on the demand for the avacodos because of whats going on. I say that because I just don’t think citizens in our nation are as concerned as they should be on this matter. I think the solution to this problem lies internally in the country and its people, however leading importing nations that have lead to this being a problem, I think should offer assistance in the matter.

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  13. I don’t think US consumers can be blamed for crime in Mexico. Although the increase of exports to the US has probably increased the presence of the cartels around these farms, I believe it is a problem for the Mexican government. However, one way the US could step in is to allow avocado imports from states other than Michoacán. It’s just unfortunate that avocados tend to grow best in a less-developed, crime-stricken country.

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  14. This is something I never knew existed. This industry could model itself after the free-trade movement that the coffee industry has seen recently. I know that avacados are touted as being some sort of “super food” but I Imagine that consumers would rethink their decisions if they knew how the ecosystems were being affected.

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  15. I think a big step in the right direction here would be the USDA approving another Mexican state to export avocados to the US. If the cartels loose their control of the commodity in question, then they become much easier to combat because they no longer control the only viable option for farmers and consumers to buy and sell that product. Perhaps the US and Mexican governments can work out some sort of tariff on avocados from Michoacán to make the other avocados a more economically feasible alternative?
    I was shocked to read this story because I have never considered avocados to be a particularly precious resource, and certainly nothing that a cartel would be interested in. However, I do recall hearing something similar about olive oil exports from Italy being controlled and stolen/ diluted by Italian mobs. It seems strange to think that agricultural products could be the focus of large criminal organizations, but now that I think about it, monetizing, shipping, and mass producing anything could make it a good target for criminal enterprises. Unfortunately, most people can’t grow all their own food, so we are unable to stop these crimes by simply stopping the demand for these products. I wonder if this will become a trend as more and more people move away from subsistence farming and into the globalized economy.

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  16. This is a really great example about how capitalism and intensive farming practices can threaten our ecosystem. What makes this even more challenging is that the most effective strategy for remediating the repercussions of avocado farming is probably not aligned with the United State’s economic interests. Reducing the demand for the crop is a potential solution however I feel that people opposed the intensive beef-farming practices have been trying this for awhile without any noticeable changes. A more neutral approach could be for the USDA to seek out approval of other qualified areas to produce the crop in order to spread out the agricultural strain. Drug cartels will exist and seek to exploit profits no matter what measures are taken, however the only way to deal with this is increased laws and enforcement of those laws.

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  17. Thank you for sharing this. It never occurred to me to think about the drug industry’s involvement; I also completely neglected to imagine the environmental impacts. I feel disheartened that the farmers are willing to illegally cut down the trees in order to grow more avocados. While I understand the duress of the cartels, and the immediacy of poverty over long-term sustainability, this highlights my problems with free market environmentalism. I really think the only way that any change can be made is the Mexican government enforcing stricter regulations. Some of the others have a good point in calling for trade to be opened with other parts of Mexico, so that the cartel loses some power. Personally, I feel very conflicted– it is more inherently problematic to me that we in America don’t recognize that each and every good came from somewhere. I would like for there to be some way for our government to support environmental regulations globally, but the obsession with national borders and independence means that even good intentions would be rejected. I don’t think reducing demand here would make any significant difference abroad. I do, however, still believe we should cut waste. On a much larger scale than just avocados, about 33% of produce grown worldwide is wasted.

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  18. Oh gosh, I think this is more of a cartel problem than an Avacado problem. If we place regulations on practices used for avocado we import, than they may just have a harder time paying the cartel and their lives will be at risk. If something is not done, than their lives will continue to be at risk anyways because the cartel is established there and environmental issue will continue to be a concern. Regardless how who is the market for the current booming business in Mexico, Im sure the cartel will find a way to take advantage of it.

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  19. Wow, I had no idea about the drug cartel problem before reading this blog! It’s crazy how Americans have the highest import rate of avocados than any other country. Even though, the consumption of avocados probably do impact the drug cartels, I do not believe that banning the imports will save the city of Michoacán altogether. This is a problem that I think the Mexican government needs to solve internally. I think the best solution is to spread awareness of this crisis and diversify the import of avocados from other cities.

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  20. I don’t think an effective solution to the problem of cartels would be to decrease our consumption of avocados since as you mentioned, if the farmer’s do not produce a large enough crop their lives are in danger. It is good to be aware of the issue of course, as it is better to be aware than to be ignorant. This post brings a larger issue to light for me, that of the rising problems we see when we ween off of one resource, such as beef or chicken, only to heavily rely on a new resource that is not without its own problems. For example, our newfound love for almonds and their products such as almond milk or butter has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) for bees as a result of mono-culture. Our love of avocados, according to your post, is having a similar effect by creating a problem of deforestation in Mexico.

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  21. The avocado is something I would never have thought would cause so much damage to not only the environment but the people of Mexico. I don’t know much about drug cartels and how many murders are caused by each but that number seems very high for just the people involved in avocados. I really think the only solution for this would be to fight the cartels, because us giving Mexico this much money for one resource has to be helping their economy in someway. And taking away the business could put those farmers in the way or more issues.

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  22. So, I read the article you sited from the Guardian newspaper about the problem in Michoacán, and they are indeed starting to model the autodefensas vigilante-style police forces that became prominent in response to cartel activity. Tancítaro, what seems like the capital of the state, has apparently been improving rapidly in their paramilitary avocado force since their start in 2013. The movement to create such a locally centered military force has not only been effective in curtailing cartel activity, it is morally and logically necessary. If the “law of the land” is incapable of leading and maintaining control of its domain, someone must fill the void if all is to be well. In light of that fact, it seems to me that our nation does have a significant role we could play. For one, we could honor their willingness to comply to USDA standards by going beyond that. We could assist the state by providing agricultural and logistic counsel on best practices, environmentally and economically. Second, and this is where it gets rocky, we could support the military force of Tancítaro financially and through training. Our buying avocados gives them money. If that money is protected from the cartels, it goes to the people. If the people use that for good in light of such evil, they can bring in the surrounding state and create development to improve their lives like never before. With that, we can train their forces to fight better than 20 cartel members each. We do it for Iran, why not Mexico? Security is everything. If we can assist their struggle for security, that is the most effective option. The Mexican government would probably be very upset, and we would essentially be sponsoring an avocado city-state, but who cares? The nation practically operates like a collection of city-states anyway. Maybe thats best if their government can’t get it together?

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  23. I don’t think that cutting back on our avocado demand would solve the crime dilemma. Drug cartels are drug cartels and they are going to find ways to make money one way or another.

    However, I do think that it is important to find other ways to supply our avocado demand without having such a detrimental environmental impact. Maybe we should begin importing from other countries that don’t rely on cutting down their forests to grow these fruits.

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  24. I think this blog post was really interesting. I frequently consume avocados and was completely unaware of this situation. I do not think that the US can really do anything to alleviate this problem except allow avocados to be imported by other regions in Mexico. Besides this, I think it is highly unlikely that the US will decrease their avocado consumption. Best case scenario, the Mexican government can stop these drug cartels, but if they cannot, everyone will be at a standstill on what to do. In this case it comes down to either putting the lives of the farmers or the health of the environment on the line.

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  25. I found this really interesting. Food fads will come and go and I feel as though even US does something about this city/plant production problem, another food trend can come up and the problem can arise in another city. The problem need to be addressed and solved by the Mexican government and stop the influence the cartels have on small communities.

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