Water scarcity caused by avocado farming is unethical

Avocado agriculture is a water sucking-machine with detrimental effects on local ecosystems and populations

(Kristen Frier)

The word “avocado” comes from Mexico. In 500 BC, the Aztecs named the fruit “ahuácatl,” which means testicle. When the Aztecs were looking at the avocados hanging from the tree, they came to a realisation that the fruit looked similar to that particular male body part. Therefore, they called it a testicle.

Ahuácatl has become a trendy food, making regular appearances on Instagram, magazine covers, and sometimes used in hair treatments. But this esteemed fruit has proven to have harvesting practices which could leave major exporting countries with water scarcity.

Avocados have a special place in my household. I put avocados inside an “arepa” with a bit of salt and chicken. This Venezuelan dish is called “reina pepiada.” Arepas are made with ground corn dough that can be stuffed with anything you like. My favourite type of stuffing just happens to be the “reina pepiada.”

I even have an avocado tree in my Venezuelan home, but over there, avocados grow to be almost as large as footballs. Here, I have to settle with the baseball-sized fruit.

Avocados have gained popularity over the years. A report titled “The Implications of The Avocado Trade for Global Scarcity” states that the demand for avocado exports increased from 230 million kilograms in 1990 to 1300 million in 2020.

A study by the University of Miami Law School states that “approximately 20,000 hectares of forest in Michoacán [Mexico] are converted to agricultural use each year.” From 2000 to 2010, “it was estimated that the expansion of avocado farming contributed to 1,700 acres of deforestation per year.”

Twenty thousand hectares is equal to 37 football fields. Just imagine all the wildlife that has to be taken away from their natural habitat, or all the trees that have to be cut down in order to grow ahuácatl.

But it doesn’t stop there. California Avocados writes that “the rule of thumb for mature [avocado] trees is about 20 gallons of water a day during the irrigation season.” Irrigation is when farmers use controlled amounts of water in order to grow their crops.

Twenty gallons of water on a daily basis for a single tree is more than what other fruits consume. According to the global scarcity report, the avocado “requires four times more water than the production of a kilo of oranges and ten times of that of a kilo of tomato.”

Unfortunately, countries that grow avocado are already facing drought and water shortages.

The report uses a model which calculates the impact that water usage has had on local water scarcity over the past 25 years, called a water scarcity footprint (WSF).

It found that Mexico had the highest WSF from avocado production, with 27 per cent of the global total. Chile followed with 22 per cent, Israel with 12 per cent, USA with 11 per cent, Australia with 7 per cent, South Africa with 5.6 per cent, Rwanda with 5 per cent, Peru with 3.6 per cent, Spain with 3 per cent, and Morocco with 1 per cent.

Because avocados originated from Mexico, almost half of the global avocado trade takes place there. This can have a huge impact on the environment and its wildlife. If the country continues to practice deforestation to plant avocados it will slowly lead to a larger percentage of water scarcity and ecological loss.

Ahuácatl might have stolen people’s hearts, but it has also absorbed precious water, which communities in Mexico desperately need. The current water crisis in the country has led people to hunt for drinking water up from hundreds of metres underground.

Unfortunately, it seems like avocados are so crucial for our generation that we just can’t bear to give them up — even to save natural habitats and millions of people who need water.