Over the last ten years,
the avocado has slowly and steadily become a superstar
in the produce section of most supermarkets,
and a staple of western diet,
especially for vegans and vegetarians.
Since the turn of the millennium,
the consumption of the fruit
has increased more than fivefold
in most industrial countries.
Today the avocado is a social media star.
It proclaims super food
and an ambassador of the healthy cuisine.
The fruit seems to be especially popular for people
who would have a strong sensibility towards animals and the environment,
for people that want to be in harmony with nature,
and want to return to old values,
like naturalness and sustainability,
before fast food and factory farming.
The avocado has its good reputation not for no reason.
It is indeed very healthy.
Rich monounsaturated fats, vitamins and minerals,
you feel healthier just looking at them.
And yet, avocados are also convincing in taste,
all while being easy to eat
– in itself, the perfect fruit.
But in reality, every vegan’s wet dream is actually,
ecologically and economically deeply questionable, and is,
in addition to that, not nearly as natural as people make it out to be.
10000年前 在美洲中部 一些
Avocados have been cultivated by the various advanced civilizations
in central America, since 10 000 years ago.
Today’s fruit, however, doesn’t share much resemblance
with its wild ancestors except for its name.
The name avocado is derived from its Aztec name, which meant “testicle”.
In name, it was good in either,
because of its similar shape and texture
or because of the aphrodisiac effect it’s supposed to have.
Today, avocados are mostly grown in tropical and subtropical regions,
as they need a lot of sunlight and heat
and don’t tolerate frost.
The main producers are Mexico, the Dominican Republic,
秘鲁 哥伦比亚 印尼和巴西
Peru, Columbia, Indonesia and Brazil.
But Chile and South Africa are also important exporters,
especially for the Western markets.
The only Western country that grows avocados
in comparably large numbers itself, are the United States,
with its farming areas in Florida and California.
But because the amount of avocados harvested there
hasn’t increased in the last 20 years,
America has to cover the continuously rising demand
through imports too, mainly from Mexico.
Europe’s avocado imports, on the other hand,
come mostly from Chile, Brazil and South Africa.
Growing avocados is, however,
not as easy as it might seem.
Before farmers can ever profit from the trees,
they first have to be husked, be cultivated over many years.
Roughly 15 years does it take for a seed
to grow into a fruit-yielding avocado tree.
Even grafted seedlings take around 8 years to become productive.
As a result, avocado growing demands from farmers
not only large upfront investments, but also considerable effort,
space and technical know how.
Aside from a few small holders
that have owned avocado trees for generations,
it’s usually only big businessmen, quite often from richer countries,
that have the necessary resources to enter this lucrative business.
That’s why today’s ever increasing demand
was for the most part
satisfied by only a few large scale plantations in every country.
These maga farms control giant avocado monocultures as bigger cities
and only continue to grow larger every year.
In the process, most small holders in the region are expelled,
and whole landscapes altered.
And that’s not even the worst part,
but more on that in a minute.
All these has, of course, not much to do with
the alleged sustainability and love of nature.
The cultivation of the hundreds or thousands of trees
that these large plantations need, are sophisticated and controlled.
Nothing has left a chance.
Because many avocado species produce a very shallow root system
that mainly spreads horizontally just below the surface,
they’re very susceptible to pests and diseases,
as well as rot, infection and damage from surface activities.
This makes large scale farming challenging.
To counteract this, commercially producing avocados
are not grown to maturity from seedlings,
but rather are grafted with good known varieties onto rootstocks.
I don’t want to go into too much detail here,
but in a nutshell, this means
that you take the scion of one particular species
or even one particular individual
and transplant or graft it onto the rootstock of another species.
Which species you choose to combine depends on the region,
and its specific challenges of course.
But the goal is always to create a sort of Franken-avocado,
which has very resistant roots
and at the same time a very productive top.
Growing trees like this allows you to specifically control characteristics such as
像是产量 外观 高矮 耐盐程度
fruit yield, vegetative figure, dwarfing, salt tolerance,
lime tolerance, and disease resistance
to maximize productivity and profitability.
Another advantage is that the scions grafted under the rootstocks
can come from mature trees, which essentially produces clones,
and also reduces the time to the tree yields fruits by years.
Using clones, as opposed to rootstocks and scions grown from seed is,
而用克隆技术 尽管很贵 但在如今却更普遍
although it’s more expensive, much more common today,
as it ensures that the final trees will have the desired properties.
Some of the rootstock clones still used today to grow new trees
in areas in California and South Africa
trace back to a mother plant that was specifically cultured
for this purpose in the 1950s.
Grafting is, by the way, how most commercial fruit crops are grown.
It isn’t exclusive to avocados,
but I still thought I’d mention it
before someone tries to tell me how natural avocados are.
But what really makes avocados so ecologically questionable
are the immense amount of water they need.
The steadily increasing global temperatures,
shorter and shorter time spans between record droughts,
and an ever increasing possibility of large scale conflicts over the vital resource,
water shortage already threatens billions of people around the world,
especially in poorer tropical and subtropical regions.
It doesn’t help that in exactly these regions the avocado boom
absorbs the already small water supplies like a sponge.
On average 1 000 liters of water are needed
to produce a single kilo of avocado, just 2.5 fruits.
That’s the equivalent of 7 bath tubs full of water.
For comparison, tomatoes only need a single,
salad only half a bath tub per kilo.
No other fruit or vegetable that is equally popular
needs so much water.
If you consider how many avocados are
already being imported by Western countries,
and that these numbers will likely only increase,
as the health cuisine becomes more and more popular,
it becomes clear that the avocado will become a problem
for humans, animals and the environment sooner rather than later.
The United States alone imports over 2 billion pounds of avocado every year,
a number that now even exceeds the banana imports.
Thereby, it’s no surprising
that the negative impacts related to the avocado boom
are already visible in many places around the world.
In Mexico, for instance,
80% of the little drinking water available
is already used for agriculture,
while the proportion of avocado farms is increasing constantly.
In Israel, it’s even worse.
Here, the avocado plantations are swallowing half of all water reserves.
In South Africa, continued droughts kill thousands of cattle
and cause significant harvest losses every year,
to the point that the country is incapable of producing enough resources
to feed its population, and instead has to import basic foods.
Despite this dire situation,
you can still find giant oases of green.
Here, you don’t notice much water shortage.
The large land owners made rich by the avocado boom
have the resources to build the necessary dams, pipelines and deep wells,
to provide the farms with the large volumes of water required.
With a production value of around 100 000 metric tons annually,
this are roughly 100 000 million litres
about 25 000 million gallons of water.
Originally tomatoes were grown in this region.
But the green gold,
or the avocados fittingly called by farmers, were simply too lucrative.
So over the years more and more of the tomato fields
had to make room for avocado trees.
So far avocado farming in this region
had comparably small consequences for the environment,
but this could change quickly.
In the long run, avocados simply demand more resources
than its supporting ecosystem can supply.
The danger and uncontrolled cultivation of avocados
presents to the ecosystem can be seen in Chile,
one of the main exporters for the European market.
Perhaps the most severe example is the province Petorca.
Over the past 10 years,
almost all natural water holes and rivers dried out,
and most of the vegetation died.
What remains is a barren waste land of dirt and rocks.
Mainly responsible for the water crisis are the giant avocado farms,
that popped up all over the country over the last two decades.
Too much water did they take from the environment.
Initially from rivers and now with the deep wells
also from the ground water,
this excessive usage of water disturbed the water cycle
and caused irreversible damage to the ecosystem.
Furthermore problematic, Chile’s constitution allows the privatization of water.
Anyone with enough money can buy water rights
and then hold giant amounts of water quite legally.
With their wells dry and no more rain,
most small farmers had no choice but to give up their farms.
Many of them now work as laborers on the avocado plantations.
And in the villages and towns in the region,
thousands and tens of thousands of people lack access to enough drinking water,
all while the avocado trees thrive.
The owners of the farms blame the government
and continue to plant hundreds of thousands of new trees every year.
They speculate on the Chinese market,
where the avocado boom are still in its infancy.
But thanks to targeted marketing campaigns,
the avocados are constantly gaining a popularity here too.
Between 2011 and 2017,
China’s import volume has increased 1 000 fold,
from 31 to 31 000 metric tons.
And so it seems there is no end in sight for the avocado boom.
What this means for the population, the animals and environment
in the farming areas remains to be seen.
But I think it’s reasonable to assume
that it will get worse.
And yet, the ecological problems aren’t the only problem
that loom like a shadow over the avocado.
In Mexico, the main exporter for the American market,
the avocado boom is fueling the racketeers,
that long have discovered the lucrative food for themselves.
Michoacan, where most of Mexico’s avocados are produced,
is in large control by these cartels.
Authorities and police have long lost control of the region.
Already for 3 decades, the popular fruits have been used
as an additional source of income by whomever is in power.
If farmers are to continue farming
and avoid kidnappings and other forms of violence,
they have to pay taxes on the harvests,
protection money or transport holds.
To further increase profits,
farmers and cartels are thinning our protected plant forests
to grow even more avocado trees.
Up to 1 000 hectares of forest are reportedly lost every year,
due to the illegal expansion of avocado farms.
The government does very little to solve these problems.
Instead, in a few towns throughout Michoacan,
residents have started to take up arms themselves,
forming self defence groups to drive the gangs out.
The effort worked.
Tancítaro, the self proclaimed world capital of avocado production, for example,
could successfully break free from the cartel control
and finally achieved a semblance of stability.
But this is the exception rather than rule.
There’s still rising demand for avocado’s booming, that in Mexico too,
things will likely get worse before they get better.
All this makes the avocado a real problem,
whose ever increasing demand will, in many regions around the world,
cause irreversible damage to the environment and whole ecosystems.
But as long as food magazines and health blogs keep marketing them
as this ethical, natural and eco-friendly super food,
nothing about that would change.