Mexican farmers can make higher profits than most other crops so are thinning out pine forests to plant young avocado trees.
The popularity of the avocado in the US and rising prices for the “superfood” are fuelling deforestation in central Mexico.
Mexican farmers can make much higher profits growing avocados than from most other crops and so are thinning out pine forests to plant young avocado trees.
Such is the size of the market that it has become a lucrative business for Mexico’s drug gangs, with extortion money paid to criminal organisations such as Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar) in Michoacán – the state that produces most of Mexico’s avocados – estimated at 2bn pesos ($109m) a year.
Mario Tapia Vargas, a researcher at Mexico’s National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research, told the Associated Press: “Even where they [the farmers] aren’t visibly cutting down forest, there are avocados growing underneath [the pine boughs], and sooner or later they’ll cut down the pines completely.”
Farmers in the mountains of Michoacán are engaged in a cat-and-mouse campaign to avoid authorities trying to prevent illegal deforestation.
There is also an impact on wildlife as the state’s forests contain much of the wintering grounds of the monarch butterfly. A mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as fairly dense forest, meaning less water reaches Michoacán’s crystalline mountain streams on which the forests and animals depend.
Greenpeace Mexico said people were likely to suffer too. “Beyond the displacement of forests and the effects on water retention, the high use of agricultural chemicals and the large volumes of wood needed to pack and ship avocados are other factors that could have negative effects on the area’s environment and the wellbeing of its inhabitants,” it said.
Between 2001 and 2010, avocado production in Michoacán tripled and exports rose tenfold, according to a report published in 2012 by Tapia Vargas’s institute. The report suggested the expansion caused loss of forest land of about 690 hectares (1,700 acres) a year between 2000 and 2010.
While trees take seven years to reach maturity, if each bears 100 avocados a year – a fairly low yield – farmers can make as much as $500,000 (£383,000) annually from the plot. Avocado prices jumped from about 86 cents in January to about $1.10 in July, partly because of weak seasonal supply from Mexico.
Farmers who refuse to cut gangs into the profits face retribution – two had their avocado packing plants burned to the ground last April for refusing to pay.
On 31 July, federal police in Morelia, the Michoacán state capital, detained 13 people and seized two avocado plants and two vehicles that were being used to turn a recently deforested plot into an orchard. Police said 260 pine trees and 87 firs had been cut down on a 4.7-hectare plot to make room for 1,320 avocado saplings.
Sources | theguardian.com | Associated Press