Guacamole, or so BBC a claims, is “without a doubt one of the most popular dishes in Mexico”, dating back to the time of the Aztecs. Thanks to Pancho Villa and the spice blend from Old El Paso, guacamole has conquered European lunch and dinner tables, from Norway to France, from Switzerland to Spain. Served as an aperitif or as an accompaniment, guacamole is a versatile culinary delight.
The base of guacamole is ripe, mashed avocados. Most of the avocados sold in European supermarkets come from a handful of countries. In Switzerland, for example, most avocados are imported from Chile, Peru and Spain. In 2020, Switzerland imported about 19,000 tonnes of avocados. In recent decades, avocado imports have exploded across Europe. In Germany, for example, between 2010 and 2015, avocado imports increased from 28,000 tonnes to 45,000 tonnes; by 2020 it imported more than 118,000 tonnes, reflecting an ever increasing demand. Once considered an exotic fruit, avocado has today become as common a staple as the good old potato.
Europe’s thirst for virtual water: fields of blueberries forever?
The reason for the popularity of lawyers is no secret. Like blueberries and quinoa, avocados are now among the “superfoods. “They’re not only a great source of nutrients and fiber, but also, more importantly,“ heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. ”Avocados are believed to be able to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and thus reduce the risk of heart disease. At the same time, they contain antioxidants that could reduce the risk get certain types of cancer. Health-conscious consumers buy avocados, as do trendy urban hipsters, vegetarians, and environmentalists. vegans.
For many of them, avocados are not just a delicious ingredient, but a way of life. Unfortunately, more often than not, the environmental consequences of a healthy diet are disastrous, especially in the case of avocados.
The right to water
Avocado production is very water-intensive, around 70 liters per fruit, more than 12 times more than it takes to grow a tomato. (Avocados, like tomatoes, are a fruit, not a vegetable.) Ironically, most avocados are grown in relatively arid regions. In California, for example, whose avocado production amounts to several hundred million pounds per year, the fruit is grown up in the south of the state, from San Luis Obispo to San Diego, in the desert. Because that’s what Southern california is – a “natural desert irrigated by man in a feeling of artificial luxuriance”. It takes just under 75 gallons (about 280 liters) of “blue” water to grow a pound of avocados. Blue water comes from rivers, lakes, streams and aquifers; it does not include precipitation (“green” water) or recycled water (“gray”).
At the end of 1972, Albert Hammond stormed the charts with his song “It Never Rains in Southern California”. The title was a bit of a stretch. It rains occasionally, but barely enough, especially in recent years. In the mid-2010s, California faced one of the most severe prolonged droughts in its history. With climate change, the situation is likely to worsen. At the time of the drought, a commentator admonished its readers that “you should think twice before eating avocados.” That was in 2015. Yet his words are as relevant today – and arguably even more so – as they were then.
Take the case of Chile, one of the main exporters of avocados. In 2019, Chile exported some 145,000 metric tonnes of its avocado crop. Most of the exports went to Western Europe, with the Netherlands at the top of the list. In fact, the Netherlands imports more avocados from non-EU countries than all other Member States combined. In 2019, the country accounted for almost two-thirds of EU avocado imports from third countries. Over 90% of imported avocados are re-exported to the rest of the European Union after having been inspected and repackaged.
Chile is one of the main suppliers of “Dutch” avocados, just behind Peru. In Chile, avocados are grown mainly in the province of Petorca, the northernmost part of the Valparaiso region, some 200 km north of the capital, Santiago. In Petroca, water is relatively scarce, “with droughts occurring once every seven years.” Yet as item in The Guardian stated, in Petorca, “each hectare cultivated requires 100,000 liters of water per day, an amount equivalent to what a thousand people would use in a day”. In 2019, the Chilean government declared a water emergency in the province.
Since 2016, the people of Petorca have been receiving 50 liters of water a day, a fraction of what avocado trees need. In fact, the water shortage was so acute that water was delivered by trucks. When the water was tested it contained coliform bacteria levels well above the legal limit, causing diarrhea among the children.
The fact is that in the main exporting countries of avocados in Latin America – Mexico, Chile and Peru – the main manufacturing form was “through plantations where avocados are grown in monoculture. This type of agriculture is associated with high water use due to a heavy reliance on irrigation systems and management practices that degrade soil quality and therefore its soil retention capacity. water.
According to international conventions, access to drinking water is a fundamental human right. In 2020, Leo Heller, UN special rapporteur on the human rights to drinking water and sanitation, admonished the Chilean government that it was not fulfilling its international human rights obligations if it continued to prioritize “economic development projects over human rights to water and health”. In April 2020, the Chilean government decided to increase the daily water allowance for residents of Petorca to 100 liters.
A week later, he revoked the resolution, most likely in response to pressure from the lawyer industry. For, as Heller noted, in the meantime, the Chilean government has not only continued to “grant new water rights to agricultural enterprises”, but has also failed “to control the illegal and excessive use of water. ‘water by law firms’. Too bad for sustainable development.
This is even truer for the world’s largest exporter of avocados, Mexico. Most Mexican avocados are produced in the state of Michoacan, just west of Mexico City. Most of these avocados are exported to the United States. When it comes to avocados, Mexico is a superpower. In fact, according to the UN, Mexico “controls half of the world avocado trade”. Avocados are a lucrative commodity, attracting disreputable characters including the infamous Mexico drug cartels, extorting “producers, transporters and packers to take control of the sector”.
At the same time, the expansion of avocado production for export to the United States has had a devastating impact on the flora of the region. According to local officials, every year, more than 20,000 hectares of forest land is converted to avocado plantations, leading to massive deforestation, which in turn has taken its toll biodiversity. At the same time, the focus on avocados has put food security in the region at risk, with cash crops supplanting local staples.
Finally, there is the problem of virtual water. Virtual water refers to the amount of water incorporated into the production of a product. The virtual water content of avocados is extremely high. Avocados exported from Mexico, Peru and other developing countries to Western Europe and North America result in massive amounts of virtual water being imported from water-poor countries to generally water-rich countries.
The UK is one example. In 2017, the country avocado consumption of its five main suppliers (Peru, South Africa, Chile, Israel and Spain) has been estimated at more than 25 million cubic meters per year, “the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic swimming pools”. As a result, a recent scientific article Note, “The overexploitation of the water underlying avocado trade flows can end up worsening environmental conditions in many relatively poor countries where avocado export is often seen as an important source of economic growth. “
The situation is likely to worsen given growing demand from China. Chile and Peru both have free trade agreements with China, granting them privileged access to the Chinese market. In the six years between 2012 and 2017, the amount of avocados exported to China increases from 1,500 tonnes to over 32,000 tonnes. In Latin America, avocados are considered “green gold”. Unfortunately, as has been the case throughout history, gold tends to cloud the human mind and ultimately turn into a curse.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.