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Avocado farming causing earthquakes and violence in Mexico

. Jan 13, 2021
Avocado farming causing earthquakes and violence in Mexico Avocado harvest season in Mexico. Photo: Ana Rocio GF/Shutterstock

According to archeological evidence, people have been eating avocados in Mexico for at least 10,000 years. And the country is still very much partial to the fruits, whether served sliced on a taco, or mashed into guacamole. Indeed, Mexico is responsible for roughly one-third of the world’s avocado production, growing 2.2 million tons in 2018 alone. 

But the country’s avocado industry has caused some unexpected problems, from cartel-related violence to earthquakes.

The alert was raised by the World Economic Forum (WEF),

in a <a href="https://es.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/el-aguacate-el-oro-verde-que-provoca-estragos-ambientales/#:~:text=La%20producci%C3%B3n%20intensiva%20de%20aguacate,provocada%20%C3%ADntegramente%20por%20el%20hombre.">report</a> pointing out an anomalous peak of seismic shocks in Michoacán during several periods of 2020. Located in Western Mexico, the state of Michoacán is responsible for 80 percent of the country&#8217;s avocado production. </p> <p>Between January and February of last year, official data shows more than 3,200 seismic movements in the town of Uruapan alone, the center of Mexico&#8217;s avocado-growing region.</p> <p>The WEF analysis put the seismic trends down to the amount of water used to irrigate avocado plantations. The water is directly collected from aquifers — natural underground reservoirs — thus creating huge subterraneous caves that affect the stability of the soil.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="729" height="455" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Small-earthquake-activity-in-the-avocado-crop-region-.jpg" alt="Small earthquake activity in the avocado crop region" class="wp-image-54945" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Small-earthquake-activity-in-the-avocado-crop-region-.jpg 729w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Small-earthquake-activity-in-the-avocado-crop-region--300x187.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Small-earthquake-activity-in-the-avocado-crop-region--560x349.jpg 560w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Small-earthquake-activity-in-the-avocado-crop-region--600x374.jpg 600w" sizes="(max-width: 729px) 100vw, 729px" /><figcaption>Small earthquake activity in the avocado crop region. Image: Sismologico Nacional de Mexico</figcaption></figure> <h2>An earth-shattering industry</h2> <p>Around the world, avocado plantations require approximately 9.5 billion liters of water every day to maintain the harvest. That is the equivalent of 3,800 Olympic-size swimming pools.</p> <p>The excessive use of water is also becoming a problem in Chile, where entire towns in the country&#8217;s interior have been dependent on mobile supplies for safe drinking water.</p> <p>The environmental threat, however, does not stop there.&nbsp;</p> <p>Aside from compromising soil stability, the 8-percent increase in Mexico&#8217;s avocado production in the last decade has forced producers to seek new territories to expand their plantations. In 2016 alone, the expansion of agricultural frontiers was responsible for 98 percent of deforestation in Mexico.</p> <p>In Michoacán, the avocado industry has caused deforestation to rise by at least 30 percent, according to the World Resource Institute. This becomes a further challenge for experts and environmentalists, as avocado farms are now encroaching on protected areas and nature reserves.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-hierarchy" data-src="visualisation/4939177"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>According to Manuel Ochoa Ayala, from the WEF&#8217;s Economic and Business Research Institute, as avocado is a demanding crop, farming the so-called “green gold” forces farmers to sacrifice native vegetation in order to speed up production.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Old bushes and trees are typically cut down so that avocado trees can get more sunlight, contributing to deforestation and consequently global warming and climate change,” the researcher explains.&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the problem is set to get even worse. In 2030, Mexico expects to export over 2 million tons of the fruit, almost the entirety of the country&#8217;s current production. With increasing demand for avocados and the scarcity of natural resources, the long-term environmental impacts may become even more grave.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The huge and disproportionate demand for the fruit is having an effect on the climate. Forest landscapes with diverse wildlife have been destroyed to produce avocados, and many other lands have been intentionally burned to allow them to be reclassified for commercial agriculture, instead of forests.”&nbsp;</p> <h2>Avocado: the new conflict commodity</h2> <p>The market for Mexico&#8217;s green gold is not only an environmentally dangerous business. Due to the high profit margins, the USD 3-billion industry is currently in the middle of a bloody war between Mexican cartels, fighting over land, employees, and avocado distribution networks.&nbsp;</p> <p>And in conjunction with their operations in the drug and arms dealing industries, cartels use the seemingly legitimate activity of avocado farming as a front for laundering money.&nbsp;</p> <p>The importance of the avocado business for organized drug cartels has increased in line with rising demand for the fruits from the U.S. Average consumption in the country tripled to 3.6 kilograms per person between 2001 and 2018.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2019, nine bodies were found hanged from a viaduct in Uruapan, some of them dismembered and punctured with gunshot wounds. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) took responsibility for the crime, as retaliation against their rivals of the Los Viagras criminal group. Local experts and authorities affirmed that the crime was linked to the avocado trade.&nbsp;</p> <p>Cartels have an estimated yearly profit of around USD 150 million from the avocado industry, controlling at least 10 percent of the farms in the state of Michoacán.

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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