Are Avocados Bad for the Environment? Avocados are rich in nutrients and a good source of healthy fat. The superfood is used in hundreds of recipes around the world and enjoyed plain.
Their growing popularity has earned them the nickname green gold, and the cash crop is thriving.
With consumers eating more avocados than ever, people are starting to ask are avocados are bad for the environment?
The Growing Popularity of Avocados
The last few decades have seen avocados’ popularity explode. The stone fruits are a staple in several Mexican dishes, and it’s tough to find someone that doesn’t appreciate great-tasting guacamole.
Along with having a great taste, avocados are packed with essential nutrients earning them the label as a superfood. Did you know one avocado has twice the amount of potassium as a banana?
Avocados are also rich in vitamins B5, B6, K, and E. Protein and unsaturated fatty acids are other nutrients you get in avocados.
Adding fresh avocados to your daily diet is a healthy step, but what about the environment. Is the growing demand for avocados harming the environment?
Avocados and Their Impact on the Environment
Having the nickname green gold is good news for avocado growers and sellers. As a cash crop, avocados are becoming a commodity like coffee, sugar, corn, and palm oil.
As a commodity, it also means avocados are becoming monoculture crops, and this is often detrimental to soil conditions.
Monoculture crops use large areas of agricultural land for the sole purpose of growing avocados throughout the year.
Avocados and Soil Conditions
The mass-scale production of avocados is economically beneficial for producers and investors, but the trees are also depleting the soil of nutrients.
The loss of nutrients leaves the trees vulnerable to pests and diseases. To save the trees, and protect their investments, pesticides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizers are commonly used.
Using these products allows production to continue, but it often has a devastating effect on the area.
Chemicals used to ensure the health and productivity of avocado plantations often leach into the surrounding areas.
Biodiversity in the area is reduced, and it is not always contained in the areas surrounding the avocado trees. Runoff water from the plantations often enters other ecosystems.
The sudden decline of the monarch butterfly populations in Mexico is one example of the impact avocado trees can have on the environment.
Deforestation and Avocados
As with any cash crop, farmers and investors are always looking for ways to increase their yield.
Since avocado trees need space to grow and branch out, a limited number can be successfully planted in an area.
To keep meeting the constantly growing consumer demand, avocado producers in Mexico and South America are turning to forested areas. Avocado farmers are planting young trees in the forests.
To ensure their avocado plants receive plenty of sunlight, they are gradually removing the understory shrubs and older trees.
The process is known as deforestation, and it is having a devastating effect on the planet.
It is a major contributor to climate change and global warming.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations lists agricultural practices as the leading cause of deforestation. Farming, including the growing of avocado trees, is responsible for up to 80 percent of lost forests.
Avocados and Water Usage
Avocado trees are thirsty plants. They are among the top three crops responsible for causing water stress in areas with high production.
Compared to grapevines with a water footprint of around 608 m3/ton, avocado trees are significantly higher at 1981 m3/ton.
In states like California where droughts are common, the trees’ high water consumption rates are decreasing local supplies used by residents and farmers of other crops.
The stress avocado growers are placing on the state’s water supply is not sustainable in the long run, especially as annual rainfall totals continue to fall across California’s growing region.
California avocado growers are taking some positive steps to lessen their impact on the state’s water tables.
Pressure-regulating risers and valves are helping to minimize water waste, along with mini sprinklers.
These tools are also minimizing electrical usage, something else that is beneficial to the environment.
Even with these positive advancements, the trees still require more water than they get from rainfall.
The Social Impact of Growing Avocados
Avocados are not only affecting the environment, they are also having an impact on society. These impacts are being felt in Mexico and other South American countries where the avocado plantations are thriving.
As consumer demand increases, Mexican avocado growers are expanding operations. Increasing profits for plantation owners and investors are allowing them to expand employment opportunities for locals and migrant farmers.
The economic boost is beneficial for the communities, but it also comes with a dark side.
The influx of cash is attracting crime. Drug and crime gangs are also looking to get into the action, often by way of violence, bribes, or blackmail.
These criminal organizations calculate the estimated profits from the avocado sales and demand a share from the producers. Farmers refusing to pay face threats of retaliation.
Gang members may threaten to harm growers’ families or burn down the avocado trees. Landowners often have few options other than paying off these criminal gangs.
Employees are usually the ones the feel the brunt of the extortion fees in reduced wages.
Are Avocados Bad for the Environment? Final Thoughts
There’s a lot to love about avocados. The round, green stone fruits have a great flavor either eaten plain or added to a recipe. It’s also hard to beat the health benefits you get from eating them.
While health studies and research is still ongoing, avocados have shown to be beneficial for eye health and may be able to prevent the onset of some diseases.
Unfortunately, avocados are also bad for the environment.
The monoculture crop depletes minerals and other nutrients from the soil. Chemicals are used to ensure the trees’ health, and to boost productivity. You get more avocados to choose from in the store, but it comes at a cost.
The chemicals often runoff into nearby water sources reaching other environments.
Biodiversity in these areas is negatively affected. The thirsty trees also deplete natural water supplies, especially growing in drought-plagued states like California.
Advancements in watering technology and practices are a step in the right direction, but it is still a problem.
Otherwise, avocados may soon become a luxury food instead of a dietary staple.