Food crops were grown on more marginal land (some of which was previously forested) to expand avocado plantations.
These marginal lands tend to be less fertile and therefore less productive, leading to food insecurity in the local region.
Nonetheless, avocado production (especially the Haas variety) is increasingly seen as a lucrative and attractive industry in Michoacán and this activity has brought increased wealth to the region.
Over 40,000 permanent jobs are associated with avocado production in Michoacán with 60,000 additional seasonal jobs (Echánove, 2008).
Salaries in Michoacán’s avocado plantations are considerably higher than in other low-skilled jobs in the region.
Mexican avocado production is dominated by large agribusiness companies, with 60% of Mexican avocado exporting farmers classified as medium and large producers and many small farms have been taken over by larger companies looking to expand (Echánove, 2008).
Achieving more sustainable production methods with less water use is crucial as the supply of water, for example, from meltwater from glaciers, will soon decline in many parts of the world, increasing especially in subtropical and tropical areas, where avocado cultivation is widespread.
In addition, the world’s groundwater resources have been rapidly depleted in semi-humid and arid areas (Wada et al., 2010), while in many parts of the world where avocados are grown, for example the Mediterranean region and California, drier conditions and water stress are increasing due to climate change (Iglesias and Garrote, 2015; Prein et al., 2016).
Although crop production regulates itself when a resource such as water is limited, for example, during periods of prolonged drought, the impact on the environment and on humans occurs before its use. does not exceed critical limits.
Indeed, the overuse of water for irrigation in agriculture restricts the availability of this resource for human consumption and other ecosystem services.
The current production of avocados has a significant impact on the access to water of local communities and thus generates water stress.
Roadmap to sustainability
A roadmap should bring together authorities and policy makers, large and small producers, as well as communities in areas with present and future water scarcity, to develop a strategic action plan.
They should assess, well in advance, the critical productive capacity of water-intensive agricultural crops in general and avocado in particular, as described by the OECD (2017).
This roadmap should also take into account climate change scenarios in the near future and the complexities of assessing agricultural water demand to maintain nutritionally adequate human food.
The reality of creating such a roadmap to tackle water stress in agricultural production is particularly difficult in countries currently facing difficult political situations.
However, this is where the governments of the richer avocado importing countries can act to facilitate and support such a strategic plan of action.
For example, the EU-Mexico trade agreement is a good initiative and a potential framework that also includes objectives on sustainable development, environmental standards and working conditions.
We also stress that large companies with greater capacity to respond to water stress conditions should not endanger small farmers.
Large agribusinesses must take greater responsibility for the downstream impact of their water extraction.
In addition, the EU and other large importers must take avocados’ environmental footprint into account when deciding where to import.
We believe that the need for a roadmap is crucial not only because the global economic market for avocado continues to expand, but also because the area dedicated to its cultivation increased from 66.7 kha in 1980. at 231.5 kha in 2018.
The environmental and socio-economic issues associated with avocado production must be carefully monitored.
This would include new production areas such as Africa where Kenya almost reached the levels of Brazil in 2018 and China where production increased sevenfold between 1992 and 2018.
Avocado production areas with serious current and future water risk include Mexico, Chile, Peru, the United States, Israel and Spain (OECD, 2017).
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.
In addition, monoculture production has other environmental impacts due to the excessive use of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides.
Therefore, the production of organic avocados in Spain, Peru and California, for example, should be considered, as the deterioration of water quality is considerably lower than in conventional agriculture.
These problems call for urgent countermeasures on the part of governments. both avocado producing and importing countries.
We would also say that it would be beneficial for consumers to get involved in purchasing sustainably produced avocados.
Source: Wiley Online Library