How bad are avocadoes really?
Avocadoes do not have the best reputation. They have gotten under quite some scrutiny for
for being water intense, contributing to deforestation, killing biodiversity and being flown halfway around the world.
How much of this is true? How bad are avocadoes really?
Let's explore which factors might contribute to a particularly bad food item. If the avocado orchards were build on land that used to be rainforest that would contribute to a high footprint. Other factors might be industrial fertilizer, transport or cold storage.
Agriculture & Origin
Most avocadoes are grown in central and south america, with Mexico, Peru and the Dominican Republic being the largest exporters. Avocadoes grow in monoculture orchards and the trees are 8-10 meters high. In the case of Mexico, the connection between growing worldwide demand and increasing deforestation is rather well documented ,,. The problem is that in order to meet the growing global demand more and more land with the right soil characteristics needs to be found. The financial incentive is large enough to have saturated all easily available areas already and further expansion means that even protected areas like the monarch butterfly biosphere reserve increasingly feel pressure of turning primed forests into orchards.
Most avocadoes are not flown halfway around the world or see the inside of an airplane at all. Airfright is more expensive than other options.
Typically an avocado in a European supermarket shelf has gone through the following transport steps:
- Truck (cooled) from the countryside to a major international port
- Container (cooled and controlled atmosphere) on a ship to one of the major European ports (i.e. Rotterdam, Hamburg etc.)
- Truck (cooled) from the port to distribution centers and then to stores
The transport in a refrigerated truck is rather carbon intense compared to a shipping container (the ship is simply much more efficient by carrying thousands of containers at once). Nonetheless airfright would be even more carbon intense. There are other fruits that almost exclusively come by plane, the avocado's transport footprint is average for fruits and vegetables.
Is the avocado bad for the environment? Yes sort of. At least if the global demand is high enough to keep extending growing areas into natural forests. I mean in some sense even an avocado orchard is still a type of forest, albeit a monoculture of water intensive, high fertilizer input crops.
As with many things the problem is not directly growing avocadoes in areas that are suitable, it has been a local mexican food crop for thousands of years. The problem really starts with the immense demand - forcing additional, less suitable and otherwise natural forest covered areas to grow avocadoes instead.
What can you do as a consumer?
First of all consider the amount of avocadoes you buy. Next check what kind of avocado it is, where it was produced and lastly look out for organic and no reforestation certificates. Unfortunately neither is available for avocadoes in Europe. Other crops like cacao and coffee are a bit further in this regard, and we hope that other crops will continue to move in this direction as well. Once it does be sure to reward producers engaging to stand out from the crowd with your purchase!