Mexico's avocados face fallout from violence, deforestation
MEXICO CITY, (AP) -- Mexican avocado producers have been able to seperate avocados from the conflictive landscapes that produce them, at least until a threat from a U.S. agriculture inspector effectively shut down their exports last Wednesday.
As producers continue to be extorted by organized crime and loggers continue their destruction of pine forests in order to make way for avocado orchards to grow, there is another threat: Campaigns for greener competition, perhaps even a boycott.
Advocates for more sustainable avocados aren't going to call for an outright boycott.
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"They (avocados), are a large part of either their country's or regional economies and, you know," Gareth Elliott, a New Jersey restaurant manger, stated that banning them completely would be detrimental to already struggling local farmers. "But, if more environmental studies were done and they were grown responsibly, we could all solve this problem together."
The association of Mexican avocado packers and producers has not taken any action to address the problem. Avocados from Mexico has also been promoting the United States, despite the fact that growers in Mexico have reported having to pay thousands of dollars to drug gangs in protection payments for every acre of their orchard.
People who refuse to pay can be threatened with their families being kidnapped, killed and then returned in pieces.
Producers' associations bought Super Bowl commercials worth millions of dollars, but they never thought to create a serious certification program to ensure that avocados they purchase have not been protected by drug cartels. These are the same cartels that flood the United States with dangerous fentanyl pills, which look similar to Oxycodone, Adderall, and Xanax.
They haven't come up with any plan to ensure that avocados sold in U.S. stores weren't grown on illegally logged mountain sides that once housed pine forests that threatened local water supplies.
Both groups did not respond to requests for comment. Mexico's president suggested that the suspension of avocado imports was part a conspiracy against his nation.
Many activists desire this type of certification and information program.
Elliott said that he believes it could raise awareness. He also said that many people are not aware of the issue. "Bringing it out for the consumer that they buy things speaks louder to American or global policy than sometimes protests will." But Elliott's reluctance of boycotting might disappear if illegal logging/planting of avocados reaches the core of the Michoacan monarch butterfly reserves.
Planters have so far only explored the buffer zones in the mountaintop pine forests, where butterflies spend their winter before returning to the United States or Canada. Currently, avocados cannot be grown on the mountaintops because they are too high and cold. However, climate change is changing everything.
Gareth stated that the Monarch butterflies are unable to hibernate in other places. "I don’t believe the Americans will want to say goodbye monarch butterflies.
"I believe that they will draw that line, or at the very least, they'll say, "I'll have more expensive avocados."
J.P. McMahon is the chef of the Aniar Cava, Tartare and Tartare restaurants in Ireland. He has started to advocate for avoiding avocados.
McMahon stated that avocados are perceived as healthy and the contrast to what they actually do to the environment and society is striking. It's been a difficult struggle. He has received angry messages in Mexico from growers stating that they need the income, as well as diners and chefs wanting avocados for brunch. He said, "Still I hold to my guns."
McMahon wrote that McMahon felt so disgusted by the environmental disaster and the deforestation to feed the avo on-toast craze, in November. "Almost five years later, I still miss avocados but I will not be part of the exploitation land and people to satisfy my craving."
There are many other countries that don't have Mexico's land conflicts, water shortages or drug cartel extortion. They also have sensitive species and illegal log problems. These countries might be able to replace Mexico's 80% share of U.S. imports with more sustainable avocados. While Peru, Colombia, and Chile each have their problems, drug cartel extortion is not one of them.
Juliana Villegas (Vice President of Exports at ProColombia), stated that "Colombian exporters view the United States as an market with great potential." Avocado production in Colombia offers enormous potential and benefits.
Villegas stated that "we are in a privileged position, due to our agricultural land." It is huge. We have millions of acres that are available now without any deforestation. This is a huge advantage that we should seize."
A sustained ban on avocado exports could actually be beneficial to Mexican families that can't afford it because of international demand.
However, the loss of income could be devastating for Mexican farmers who, like many Latin American countries, have spent nearly five centuries searching for a miracle crop to lift them out of poverty.
The promise of chocolate was never fulfilled by sugar, rubber, bananas and natural dyes. They were either too expensive to grow on large plantations or used slave labor. Or they could be easily grown elsewhere.
The avocado has been a miracle crop in Mexico for nearly 25 years. With just a few avocado trees, a farmer can send his kids to college or purchase a new pickup truck in order to take his product to the market. This is something that no other crop has ever been able do.
However, it is not Americans who are at the frontlines: Many activists from Mexico are fighting illegal logging on land that was once forest.
Guillermo Saucedo, an activist, tried to establish farmers' patrols last year to detect illegal logging in Villa Madero (Michoacan). The patrols were started in May and included 60 to 70 people. Saucedo was abducted, beat and threatened by drug cartel gunmen on Dec. 6. They either invest or protect avocado orchards.
Saucedo claimed this week that he found a large water retention pond similar to the one used by avocado growers near Villa Madero. However, he doesn’t believe the government will put an end to it.
Saucedo stated that the National Guard doesn't do anything. "The only thing that will stop them is their people, protesting."