Avocados and the environmental impact

Avocado has become one of the most important ingredients of the Calne cuisine and it appears almost every day on the breakfast table. It has become symbolic of healthy foods and fine lifestyle, however, do we really know its impact on the environment?

As we all know, avocados are not grown in the UK, and therefore are imported from countries in South America, such as Mexico and Chile. This might be one of the reasons why we don’t realise the impact this fruit has created, both on the population and the environment of its origin countries.

Avocados are huge consumers of water: around 2,000 litres of water are needed to grow 1 kilogram of avocados. This sounds like a lot, but if we were to compare it with other crops it isn’t significantly high. However, as avocado is in such great demand right now, farmers are keen to grow more of this ‘green gold’. Which is reasonable; who doesn’t want to earn more money?

This is when some farmers source water from rivers and other sources which primarily are for the local population to use for daily life. This has resulted in the local population having to use contaminated water that is transported by trunks; people don’t have enough water to cook and wash because avocados have taken the precious water.

In other parts of the origin countries, farmers are cutting down forests to grow avocado trees; one might wonder, although it is deforestation, avocado trees are still trees, so surely they photosynthesise and turn carbon dioxide into oxygen too? The answer is yes, they do, but as they are crops, they are planted further apart from each other, resulting in fewer plants per area unit.

Research shows that ‘one hectare of avocados with 156 trees consumes 1.6 times more than a forest with 677 trees per hectare.’ Also, as an avocado tree’s roots are more horizontal compared to others, it is harder for the water to be absorbed by the soil, it is about ‘14 times less compared to the pine tree’. The carbon footprint of avocado is also a factor we should consider: research by the Carbon Footprint Ltd states that ‘a small pack of two avocados has an emission footprint of 846g CO2, almost twice the size of one kilo of bananas (480g CO2)’. Carbon footprints and water footprints are the two most important factors we need to think about when deciding a food’s environmental impact. Cutting down other trees and growing one crop intensively can also be a threat to the biodiversity and the climate.

Having said this, I am not suggesting we should stop eating avocados completely; if the demand for avocados drops suddenly, the poor farmers in South America could end up with trees with ripened avocados but no consumers, and the avocados would be left to rot, the crops would all be cut down and wasted. This is similar to the meat argument – cows produce huge carbon footprints, however, if we all stop eating meat, what will happen to the existing farm animals?

I hope this is an opportunity for us to think about the impact behind things and realise how a simple fruit can cause big problems somewhere else.

References:

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/02/avocado-environment-cost-food-mexico/
https://www.earthsight.org.uk/news/idm/global-appetite-avocados-drives-deforestation-mexico
https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/10/how-much-water-food-production-waste

Dora, UVI

Photo credit:
Ripe Avocados: Chris R. Sharp / Photo Researchers / Universal Images Group
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