Avocados are popular because of the significant level of nutrients and health benefits they provide. They also taste great, and with everything from guacamole and avocado salad to fantastic sandwich fillings, the amount we get through has soared sixfold in the last few decades. However, we typically don’t consider the process involved and the environmental impact of avocados from farming through production as we slice into their ripe green goodness.
Avocado farms significantly impact our environment, and their effects are increasing with the high and growing demand for avocados globally.
In this article, we will examine the ongoing environmental impact of avocados and their production.
Avocados, technically a fruit, are native to Central and South America. However, Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Peru are the top avocado producers in the world. Mexico sits at the top of the avocado industry. They produced 2.4 million tons of avocados in 20203.
However, Mexico wasn't always at the top of the industry. As of 1914, the government restricted the importation of avocados into the United States due to the risk of importing agricultural pests. The government lifted the ban on avocado importations in 1997 and kickstarted the avocado industry's growth.
In the US, over 2.7 billion pounds of avocados were consumed in 20204. Production efforts tripled as it became a green gold in tune with rising demand. According to the Hass Avocado Board, an organization founded to “make the avocado the most popular fruit in the US,” the global avocado market will continue to grow at a CAGR of over 5%.
Records show the majority of the avocados consumed in the US are from South America. However, before the government lifted the ban on Mexican avocados, the US grew avocados in California and Florida. Avocado farms can only survive in tropical regions; this is why Mexico and South America are the primary producers of avocados.
It takes a long time to grow and harvest avocados. When you plant an avocado farm from seed, it takes up to 14 years before harvesting can start. If you planted trees instead, you would have to wait for about five years of growth before harvesting.
Cultivating an avocado plantation, usually in tropical climates, requires a considerable amount of water. One kilogram of avocado requires 0.75 tons of water. When comparing this water consumption to other fruits like bananas, it is about seven times more than they need.
A study measured water consumption rates of avocados, bananas, and pineapples and found that a kilogram of avocado requires 40 times more water than a kilogram of pineapple1. Other studies conducted in regions used for avocado plantations show that they experience water scarcity due to the excessive amount of water used to farm avocados.
Avocado trees cannot be grown on a large commercial scale without irrigation. Fortunately, irrigation reduces the necessary water intake by 20%.
Despite the attempts at regulating the amount of water consumed by avocado fruits, its impact on the surrounding environment is undeniable. It is a leading cause of water scarcity in some regions.
The increase in the demand for avocados globally led to massive avocado production. Farmers require large portions of land to produce enough for the increased global markets for avocados. However, these demands cause damage to the environment.
Avocado producers contribute to deforestation while trying to acquire more land space for avocado farming. They often burn forests and cut down trees to make space for more avocado trees. A report by Global Forest Watch states that 98% of deforestation in Mexico occurs because of agricultural expansions.
The report also shows the number of tree covers lost to fire. In 2021, Mexico lost about 340Kha of land to fire outbreaks. This record is relatively normal given that about 3.8Mha of land was lost to fire eruptions in 2011. Also, over 40,000 deforestation alert reports were recorded in Mexico between the 26th of July 2022 and the 2nd of August 2022.
In return for cutting down forest trees, we experience intense climate change. Also, avocado cultivation can't atone for the loss of the other trees cut down because the avocado tree absorbs minimal amounts of carbon.
Monoculture is the practice of farming one crop repeatedly. Avocado production is a monoculture crop that harms the soil by striping the earth of its nutrients. It also reduces the organic matter in the soil and can cause soil erosion.
To combat the loss of soil nutrients, farmers use synthetic fertilizers to produce crops. The herbicides used to maintain the health of avocado trees cause long-term damage to the soil. It also puts pollinators at risk of extinction, like the Monarch butterfly in Mexico.
Avocado monoculture also alters the microbial landscape of the soil, leading to poor crop growth. Heavy industrialization causes avocado monoculture crops and plantations to leave a heavy trail of carbon and water footprints in the environment.
This refers to the greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans and other activities. Avocado is a heavily imported crop to the US, producing a significant carbon footprint during transportation.
Research by It's Fresh! found in 2017 that two avocados emit 846g of Co2. A Mexican avocado makes a long polluting journey to parts of the world where it is consumed, traveling over 5000 miles to reach the UK. These significant food miles all add to the negative impact of avocados on the environment.
In the long run, C02 emissions exacerbate global warming and climate change. The heightened demand for avocados will only damage the environment more.
Producers use non-biodegradable packaging to protect avocados during transportation. Non-biodegradable packaging includes plastic bags and boxes lined with plastic. These materials are not recyclable, increasing the state of plastic pollution in the area.
The global demand for avocado fruit hurts the local food security of major producing countries. Although avocado exportation benefits the state's confines, it also causes price inflation. Price inflation makes it difficult for locals to purchase fruits grown in their homeland.
Also, avocado producers in Mexico experience exploitation from drug cartels. Drug cartels regularly threaten USDA inspectors when they visit plantations. Furthermore, they bully farmers by collecting protection money. The threats often push producers to invest in quality and high-technology security.
Avocados gained popularity because of their health benefits. It is a versatile food crop commonly used to make dishes like salads, tacos, and guacamole. It is a key part of South and Central America's diets. Here are the benefits of avocado that make it superior to other foods:
There are almost 20 nutrients in a 7-ounce avocado. It contains an astounding amount of healthy fats and carbohydrates that help stabilize your blood sugar levels. It further improves the general health of your immune system and skin.
Some of the nutrients include:
Avocado is a major source of fiber. Consuming fiber helps increase the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Also, it has three types of bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids. These bacterias are Faecalibacterium, Lachnospira, and Alistipes.
They serve as protective antibodies against colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. Short-chain fatty acids also boost your colon cells.
A study showed that consuming up to 2 avocados daily might help maintain cholesterol levels in men. Another study on hypercholesterolemic patients showed that avocado foods help improve blood lipids2. It does this by lowering LDL cholesterol or increasing HDL cholesterol levels.
The fruit is also rich in potassium and magnesium. These two compounds help regulate blood pressure, preventing the onset of any heart disease.
Avocados are rich in bioactive compounds like vitamins C, and E, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds. These compounds possess antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. Regular consumption of avocado can improve your body's antioxidant defenses.
Pregnant and nursing women require a higher nutrient intake than a regular person. Potassium, folate, and vitamin C are vital nutrients we consume regularly, but it is more crucial for pregnant and nursing women. Their recommended potassium intake increases to 2900mg, and folate requirements increase to 600 mg.
Vitamin C intake also increases to 85mg. Failure to consume these requirements, especially folate requirements, might lead to pregnancy or childbirth complications. Fortunately, avocados provide a good percentage of these nutrients. Also, the high fiber content you consume when eating avocados can help prevent constipation, a common pregnancy occurrence.
Avocados are versatile because you can consume them in different ways. You can have it raw or cooked however you prefer. It can serve as a substitute for eggs in baked foods. It can also serve as a spread, sauce, puree, etc. There is a wide range of avocado salads you can make. Another way you can enjoy its creamy texture is by making avocado toast.
Apart from ingestion, avocados are raw materials for healthy products for the skin and hair. These products range from body creams and oils to shampoo, conditioner, and other beauty products.
Apart from food products, avocado also serves as raw material for beauty products. Cosmetic producers process it into oil, cream, soap, shampoo, conditioner, and many other products. It nourishes the skin just as it nourishes the immune system.
Avocado oil is an excellent choice for people with dry and sensitive skin. It improves the appearance and texture of your skin. Furthermore, you can apply it to your scalp to keep your hair healthy. Avocado powder is a raw material for face masks, peels, and scrubs. The versatility of the avocado crop makes it a top cash crop.
As long as global demands for avocados keep rising, it will be incredibly hard to source these foods in a completely sustainable way. However, we’re starting to see some progress with sustainability developments in Mexico and other countries with avocado plantations.
Their goals include the restoration of forest cover through reforestation. Avocados from Mexico is an organization set up to champion sustainability farming. The plan is to plant up to 1.6 million trees by 2025 in Michoacan. The organization also prioritizes water preservation, especially in the local communities. There is a long way to go, but your Mexican avocado is getting greener.
The avocado industry in Chile is also practicing sustainability farming. They are adhering to 14 goals out of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Farmers can also practice sustainability by using recyclable packaging materials.
We cannot continue to ignore the environmental impact of avocados eaten across the world. It is a significant contributor to global warming and other climate change effects we are currently experiencing. As individuals, we should create diets that make more use of locally grown foods, reducing the demand for imported foods. The meals we put on our plates have a direct and ongoing impact on the environment around us.
Peiman Hadjian, Tobias Bahmer, Julian Egle, (2019). Life Cycle Assessment of Three Tropical Fruits (Avocado, Pineapple, Banana).
Dreher ML, Davenport AJ. Hass avocado composition and potential health effects. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(7):738-50. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.556759. PMID: 23638933; PMCID: PMC3664913.
M. Shahbandeh, (January 21, 2022). Avocado Production Worldwide 2020, by country.
U.S. annual avocado consumption 1985-2021, M. Shahbandeh, Jul 27, 2022
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.