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.
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.
Many 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?