In this post we would like to share with you some thoughts and facts about sustainable food production and consumption. We will focus on one food item that we often have in our markets and that has become extremely popular around the world in the last decades: the avocado.
The avocado has been labeled as “super food” for its nutritional value and has been incorporated in many dishes in the northern hemisphere. In the UK alone the consumption has increased 27% from 2017 to 2018 (Guardian News and Media, 2018). Avocados are produced to a large extent in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, USA and Chile. Regarding its water consumption, its blue water footprint (volume of surface and groundwater consumed to produce a good) is on average 237 m3/ton, but it can reach up to 2,295 m3/ton in the north of Chile (Sommaruga et al., 2020). As a reference, the world average of blue water footprint estimated for all fruits is 147 m3/tons.
In relation to Chile, the avocado production has risen dramatically in the last years; between 2008 and 2018 the volume of avocado exported has increased by 55,9% (ODEPA, 2019). Nevertheless, Central Chile is running out of water. In the last ten years this area has been facing a so-called Mega-Drought, experiencing rainfall deficits of around 20-40% (Garreaud et al., 2019). This area is home of approximately 70% of the Chilean population and according to Myers (1990) a hotspot for biodiversity due to its biological richness, high endemism and deep threat of their species. Climate change predictions for this territory shows that water scarcity will only get worse.
In particular, the Province of Petorca has been suffering the impacts of the massive avocado industry in its territory. Progressively during the last decades, they have seen their own traditional crops drying while at the same time green slopes of avocados were expanding. Nowadays this community has no access to water, instead water is distributed by trucks, and proper sanitary conditions are not ensured (Wehr, 2018). For years this situation has been denounced to national and international media, under the slogan of “It’s not drought, it’s looting”. The increasing demand of avocado around the world, and Chilean institutional structures have been allowing the perfect conditions for this business to grow despite the water scarcity. According to Chilean law, inherited from dictatorship, the state has no responsibility in providing water security and there are no priorities for the use of the water. During the 70’s water rights were privatized and were over-granted to the agrobusiness (Wehr, 2018), which lead up to the situation that this territory is facing right now. A sharp phrase circulating through social media regarding this issue highlights its global complexity “We (Chileans) have to ration water; they can’t run out of avocado in Europe”.
This is only one case of a territory in need of environmental justice, which helps us to exemplify the need of sustainable consumption and production based on better regulations. At the same time, it is urgent to consider the future climate change scenarios to plan the way we will produce food in the years to come, as it is to incorporate water footprint perspective.
There is no doubt that embracing the complexities of a globalized food system is a huge task, but we can do it by questioning the real value of food we consume and thinking about the socio-ecological conditions of the territory where it is produced. In Europe, avocado production has been growing in Spain, France and Greece, which also represents an alternative for the consumption of this nutritious food.
Moreover, this is another strong reason to never let avocados go to waste!
Written by María Jesús Silva
Garreaud, R. D., Boisier, J. P., Rondanelli, R., Montecinos, A., Sepúlveda, H. H., & Veloso‐Aguila, D. (2019). The central Chile Mega Drought (2010–2018): A climate dynamics perspective. International Journal of Climatology, 40(1), 421–439.
Guardian News and Media. (2018). Chilean villagers claim British appetite for avocados is draining region dry. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/17/chilean-villagers-claim-british-appetite-for-avocados-is-draining-region-dry
ODEPA (2019) Chilean Agriculture Overview. https://bibliotecadigital.odepa.gob.cl/bitstream/handle/20.500.12650/70246/PanoramaDeLaAgriculturaChilena2019.pdf
Wehr, I. (2018). The socio-environmental impact of the avocado industry in Petorca Province: Heinrich Böll Stiftung – Santiago de Chile. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://cl.boell.org/es/2018/08/06/socio-environmental-impact-avocado-industry-petorca-province
Sommaruga R. & May Eldridge H. (2020) Avocado Production: Water Footprint and Socio- economic Implications. EuroChoices