“The avocados you’re eating in the United States are bathed in blood."
Americans' insatiable appetite for the humble avocado — a tasty fruit inexplicably linked to millennials' financial habits in the popular discourse — is fueling a wave of deforestation in the western part of Mexico, The New York Times reports, with violence and corruption greasing the annual $2.7 billion export trade so that we may enjoy our pricey avocado toast.
To get a sense of the massive scale of deforestation, consider that more than 25,000 acres of oak and pine forests that once existed in 2014 in the western Mexican state of Michoacán are now avocado orchards, the media outlet reported. And some of this land is privately owned but overtaken by violent gangs who threaten local farmers and landowners with the help of corrupt government officials.
With 90 percent of avocados sold in America coming from Mexico, it's most likely that an avocado you pick up in a grocery store was grown on deforested land. And chances are the delicious guacamole ingredient was grown under shady circumstances.
The deforestation is in response to market forces in the United States, whose consumption of Mexican avocados has skyrocketed over the years from 55 million pounds about 20 years ago to 2.25 billion pounds from 2019 to 2021.
There isn't really anything wrong with avocado trees, which are native to Mexico and were first grown as a crop about 5,000 years ago. The problem is that people are razing whole forests, filled with biodiversity and which serve as carbon sinks, to plant monocultures of lucrative avocado trees.
The avocado trees, which are generally thirstier than the trees they replace, have pushed people to dig up illegal wells, siphoning irrigation meant for local farmers' tomato plants and other crops, according to the NYT. Besides the high water consumption, people overseeing these avocado tree farms often use unsustainable agricultural practices that result in reduced soil fertility.
And though you technically need government approval to convert land into an avocado tree farm, that hasn't stopped illegal conversions, or criminals razing forests to make way for avocado trees, according to the NYT. Some local officials look the other way after being bribed. Landowners, farmers and activists who make a stand against the illegal growing of avocados are targets for threats and assault.
In 2019, criminals even kidnapped people in the town of Zirahuén in Michoacán after they opposed the establishment of avocado plantations.
"The avocados you’re eating in the United States are bathed in blood," said one victim to the NYT.
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