IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Avocados

21st June, 2024 Environment

Avocados

Source: Down to Earth 

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Context

  • The soaring global demand for avocados, driven by their superfood status, has led to significant environmental and social issues, including high water usage, deforestation and carbon emissions, raising questions about their sustainability.

Details

Key Points

  • Global avocado production has tripled in 20 years due to high demand in Europe and North America.
  • Environmental impacts include high water usage, carbon footprint, deforestation and biodiversity loss.
  • Avocado farming often relies on monoculture practices, increasing vulnerability to pests and diseases.
  • Fairtrade and organic certifications offer partial solutions but have limitations.
  • Comparison of avocado carbon footprint with other foods highlights lesser impact than animal products but higher than many fruits and vegetables.

Environmental Impacts

  • Carbon Footprint
    • Average carbon footprint of avocados: 2.5kg CO₂e per kg.
    • Comparatively higher than bananas (0.9kg CO₂e) and apples (0.4kg CO₂e), but lower than animal products like beef (85kg CO₂e).
  • Water Usage
    • Avocado trees require approximately 1,000 liters of water per kg.
    • Often grown in water-stressed regions, exacerbating local water scarcity issues.
  • Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss
    • Significant deforestation, especially in Mexico's Michoacán region, leading to habitat loss for endangered species.
    • Monoculture plantations reduce biodiversity and soil quality.
  • Fertilizer and Pesticide Use
    • Heavy reliance on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
    • Negative effects on biodiversity, soil health, and human health.

Social and Economic Impacts

  • Economic Benefits vs. Human Rights
    • Avocado trade provides income for local farmers but also links to organized crime and human rights abuses.
    • Some communities have banned avocado farming due to associated problems.
  • Fairtrade and Organic Certifications
    • Can mitigate some environmental and social issues.
    • Certification processes can be expensive and inaccessible for small-scale farmers.

Global Trade and Transport

  • Shipping
    • Majority of avocados are shipped, which has a relatively low carbon footprint.
    • Vulnerabilities in the global food system due to over-reliance on shipping.

Sustainable Alternatives and Recommendations

  • Diversifying Varieties
    • Encouraging the use of diverse avocado varieties to reduce monoculture impacts.
  • Local Food Systems
    • Promoting locally sourced foods to build resilience against global supply chain disruptions.
  • Consumption Patterns
    • Advising consumers to treat avocados as an occasional treat rather than a staple.

Avocado:

  • Origin and Native Habitat
    • Avocados are native to the warm, temperate climates of Central and South America, particularly Mexico, Peru, and Colombia. These regions provide the ideal growing conditions with their mild temperatures and well-distributed rainfall.
  • Climate Requirements
    • Avocado trees thrive in subtropical to tropical climates, requiring temperatures between 20°C to 25°C. They are sensitive to frost and prefer regions with well-drained soils, moderate humidity, and altitudes between 500 to 1,500 meters.
  • Soil Preferences
    • Optimal avocado growth occurs in rich, well-drained soils with a pH range of 6 to 7. They perform best in loamy or sandy loam soils but can adapt to other soil types provided there is good drainage to prevent root rot.
  • Water Usage and Stress
    • Avocado trees are water-intensive, requiring about 1,000 litres of water per kilogram of fruit. This high-water demand poses challenges in regions prone to water stress, such as parts of Mexico and California, where prolonged droughts can impact production.
  • Global Production and Export
    • Major avocado-producing countries include Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Indonesia, and Colombia. Mexico is the largest producer and exporter, supplying over 50% of the world's avocados, primarily to the United States and Europe. The geographical distribution of avocado production highlights the dependence on specific climatic and soil conditions, influencing global trade patterns and agricultural policies.

Sources:

Down to Earth

PRACTICE QUESTION

Q. Analyse the challenges posed by monoculture plantations in avocado farming. How do these challenges compare with those faced by other crops, and what solutions can be implemented?