‘Green Gold’: How avocados have become a new cartel commodity in Mexico
Tamara Moule considers how a recent increase in the popularity of avocados has impacted Mexico in a series of unexpected ways
A growing concern in the West regarding sustainable food production has fostered a rise in vegetarian and vegan diets, which advocate plant-based nutrition as a way of combatting a myriad of environmental and welfare-related issues. This has resulted in increasing consumer interest in ‘superfoods’ as alternatives to meat. One of these superfoods, the avocado, has in recent years seen an enormous surge in demand – a surge which has ironically created numerous production concerns of its own.
Persea americana, or the avocado, has become known for its health benefits including richness in vitamins and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are often lacking in more traditional Western or American diets. An appreciation for its nutritional benefits, in addition to growing environmental concerns related to high meat consumption, are just a few factors that have contributed to its popularity. In fact, the average annual avocado consumption in the US has risen from approximately two pounds to seven and a half pounds (900 grams to 3.4 kilograms) per person between 2001 and 2018.
In the state of Michoacán in Mexico, where most of the country’s avocado production takes place, avocado exports were worth 2.4 billion dollars in 2018, with the fruit being dubbed as the region’s ‘green gold’. An increased market demand has meant that the business of avocado production provides wages up to 12 times the Mexican minimum wage, so it’s no wonder the industry has become an increasingly popular one to work in. However, it has also become an increasingly dangerous one, both environmentally and socially.
In the state of Michoacán in Mexico […] avocado exports were worth 2.4 billion dollars in 2018
With drug trafficking groups having been known to operate in the region, Michoacán has now become the hotbed of a new cartel focused around avocado production. From teams of pickers being forced to work at gunpoint without payment, to the hijacking of trucks transporting avocados, locals have many stories about the dangerous nature of the industry – within which a dozen or more criminal groups are operating.
Opposing the western perception that an avocado-rich diet helps fight the climate crisis, avocado farming is actually becoming a cause of environmental degradation in Michoacán, where deforestation is occurring to make space for plantations. Nevertheless, the avocado industry is one that allows many farmers and workers to feed their families, meaning a boycott of the fruit by consumers would create a string of issues of its own.
Avocado farming is actually becoming a cause of environmental degradation in Michoacán
These trends highlight that complex environmental issues such as this can’t be solved with simple solutions, as they form long chains of cause-and-effect. Just as there is no single answer to the increasing dangers of cartel culture in Mexican avocado production, there is no one solution for the climate crisis. However, what is needed is an increased transparency on the behalf of producers regarding their production chains, and an increased awareness of the origins of food products on behalf of consumers. This in itself would be far from solving these problems, but it would be a good start.