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Demand for avocados destroying Mexico's pine forests

The EU has a particulary favourable trade deal with Mexico for the fruit

Kate Nelson
Wednesday 10 August 2016 17:43 BST
Farmers fight a game of cat-and-mouse with authorities, thinning the forests and planting young avocado trees
Farmers fight a game of cat-and-mouse with authorities, thinning the forests and planting young avocado trees (AP)

Our insatiable appetite for avocados is leading to the destruction of Mexico’s pine forests.

Demand for the highly-exportable fruit has never been higher.

The US is the main importer of Mexican avocados but the EU also has a trade deal with the South American country which is particularly favourable.

Their trees flourish at about the same altitude and climate as the pine and fir forests in the mountains of Michoacan, the state that produces most of Mexico's avocados.

"Even where they 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," said Mario Tapia Vargas, a researcher at Mexico's National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research.

The impact is having a devastating effect on the species which flourish in the region.

High avocado prices have fueled deforestation in Michoacan state, Mexico (AP)

A mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as fairly dense forest, meaning less reaches Michoacán's legendary crystalline mountain streams on which the forests and animals depend.

The two-lane rural roads that cut through the mountains are heaving with lines of heavy trucks carrying avocados out and pickers in to the orchards.

But poor farmers are spurred on by ever-rising prices.

Mexican government researcher Ignacio Vidales, who specializes in avocados, said: "More than anything else, it is economic pressure. They have seen that planting avocados is more profitable than planting corn, or other crops, or even the forest."

Mexico has the edge on other countries which grow avocados since its climate enables it to cultivate them year-round.

Waitrose, Sainsbury’s lists Mexico as one the of the countries it imports avocados from the Michoacán region.

A Waitrose spokeswoman said it does nor source avocados from the

Production of the fruit employs around 300,000 people directly or indirectly in in Michoacán.

According to the European Union’s diplomatic service, “the EU granted favourable access conditions…for farm products that are important for Mexico, such as concentrated orange juice, avocados, honey and cut flowers.”

Antonio Villaseñor Zurita, president of the Association of Producers and Exporters-Packers of Michoacan Avocados, said although most of its crop is exported to the US, the industry is diversifying its export markets – counting the UK, Europe, Japan, Chile and the Netherlands among them.

Australia is the top avocado consumer outside of South and Central America – but hostile weather at the start of 2016 meant poor yields, sending prices rocketing.

So far New Zealand is the only other country allowed to sell avocados in Australia but Mexico has an export application pending, according to Australia's Department of Agriculture.

Australians have been paying up to £3.80 per fruit, prompting some retailers “to tweak their usual burglar warnings to: ‘No cash or avocados are kept on premises overnight’,” reports Reuters.

Additional reporting by AP

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