Course:CONS200/2021/Is avocado really green? Socio-ecological impacts of increased avocado consumption

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An avocado plantation located in the Michoacán state in México.[1]

Since the 1990s, avocados have become a booming global commodity seeing their environmental and economic growth rates increase drastically. Plantings of avocado trees have been replacing ecological space in the forests of central Mexico, driven by world market forces. To date, most of the environmental impact has been localized in the Mexican state of Michoacán. [2] However, it is likely that as production continues to expand elsewhere, so too will the associated ecological degradation and social costs. [3] There are lessons to be learned from those impacts and those of other globally popular plants, such as coffee, that could be used to craft sustainable strategies meant to mitigate avocado's negative effects. The avocado industry has brought some economic benefits, namely increased employment and reductions in poverty and out-migration, but inequity in the Michoacán region limits the positive socioeconomic impacts. [3] Ultimately, steps could be taken at all levels of the commodity chain to increase sustainable action in farming practices, policies protecting smallholders and local capital, and increased consumer awareness.

How has avocado consumption changed over time?

Health benefits

The avocado is a tropical fruit that contains a variety of vitamins, minerals and proteins. Some vitamins that can be found in the fruit include vitamin A and vitamin B.[4] Individually, many of them are potentially able to positively impact the health of the body. Potassium, for example, is a mineral found in avocados. It has been linked with favorably impacting the blood pressure of certain individuals. A study was conducted to see how the consumption of avocados are potentially able to help reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The results of the study state that while the fruit has the possibility of reducing the risks of CVD, a thorough confirmation should still be made.[5] Additionally, many different healthy fats are found in avocados. Examples being monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and omega-3 fatty acids.[5] Another study was made to determine the relation between avocado consumption and diet quality. The results show that avocado consumers had overall higher nutrient intake and lower intake of added sugars. They were found to have lower body weight.[6] The numerous health benefits the avocado posses caused the increase in production and consumption of the fruit.

Western nations - “fad diets”

Obesity is a growing global issue. It is especially prevalent in Western countries (e.g. United States of America).[7] A number of different diet therapies were developed to help combat obesity. Many of these diets are able to incorporate avocados. They are rich in MUFAs, have low sugar and have high fiber which benefits weight loss.[5]This has caused an increase in avocado consumption, especially in western countries. Some notable diets that include avocados are the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the South Beach diet.[7]

The Atkins diet restricts carbohydrate consumption but has no limits on consumption of protein or fat. The diet is based on using fat as the main source of energy for metabolism.[7]

The Mediterranean diet is based on the diet of people living in the Mediterranean who have overall lower CVD morality rates. It is largely composed of grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, and olive oil. The traditional diet does however contain a significant amount of MUFAs and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA).[7]

The South Beach diet does not restrict calories intake but focuses on the intake of the right carbs and the right fats. It includes healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids and MUFAs.[7]

Environmental impacts of avocado consumption

Graph depicting the average annual avocado consumption in the US from 1995-2018 (in million pounds). In 1995 consumption was around 360 million pounds, in 2018 it was up to 2.453 billion pounds. [8]

Land use change

The dramatic demand in avocado consumption has initiated considerable land conversion, notably in South and Central America. 34% of global avocado production takes place in Mexico with 72% of Mexican production occurring in the Michoacán state.[9] In 2018, 75% of total U.S. consumption of avocados came from Michoacán which makes this region a particularly relevant example for examining avocado-driven land-use change.[2]


Land-use change is often typified by deforestation; forests and other ecosystems are converted to cleared, empty sites where industrial agriculture techniques are then applied. Deforestation severely reduces biodiversity and subsequent ecosystem function which has direct effects on the ecosystem services available to residents of the local area. Michoacán is a popular choice for avocado cultivation because of its climate and the resulting soil conditions.[2] Volcanic and sandy soils allow for good water drainage and additionally deter fungus from growing which assists the growth of avocados.[2]

The surge in US demand for avocados is initiating an expansion in avocado farming which directly impacts deforestation rates.[2] The rate of deforestation in Michoacán was 40% between 2001 and 2010 and 60% after 2010; this indicates an increasing trend in deforestation in order to create more agricultural plots.[2] The overlap between deforested areas and avocado plantations is considerable as avocado plantations were shown to be responsible for 17% of total deforestation between 2001 and 2017.[2] Deforestation causes considerable habitat loss for many key, ecologically sensitive species. Deforestation projects also release stored carbon and the new industrial agriculture sites are not as productive in capturing and storing carbon released through combustion of fossil fuels.[9] Deforestation is estimated to continue increasing as long as avocado consumption continues to grow, because there are more economic incentives for local farmers to convert forests to avocado plantations than to keep it as a functioning forest.[9] Preserving forests in their original state is therefore a less economically viable opportunity compared to the implementation of industrial agriculture. Increasing avocado consumption ultimately has a definitive link to deforestation and subsequent environmental degradation.

Irrigation of an avocado seedling.[10]


Avocados are extremely water-intensive crops; on average, they require 9.5 billion liters of water to be grown.[11] 156 avocado trees on one hectare of land requires 1.6 times more water than 677 trees on one hectare of forest land.[12] This high water requirement is challenging in the context of Central and South American climate as drought periods often occur and water is unavailable in the quantities necessary for cultivation.[12] This directly affects crop productivity and the livelihoods of local people managing avocado plantations.[9] Additionally, water scarcity is likely going to be an ongoing issue as precipitation fluctuations become more extreme and climate variability increases due to anthropogenic-induced climate change.[9] This intense water requirement makes avocados an environmentally unsustainable crop, especially when grown in mass quantities. In central places like Michoacán, water is extracted from regional aquifers solely for avocado production. Along with negative environmental effects and depletion of resources, the act of constant extraction is initiating subsoil caverns to open which creates small earthquakes in the area.[12]

Flora and fauna

The production of avocados is causing changes in the flora and fauna of the regions where avocados are grown and produced. [3] The alteration of flora and fauna in the region can be attributed to the production of avocados due to it indirectly fueling climate change through the various other environmental impacts of avocado production such as deforestation and emissions from transportation. [3] Climate change is the largest cause of alterations in flora and fauna. [13] The increase in sea levels due to climate change leads to flooding which causes many insects to die as their suitable habitats of dry grass are now flooded and not hospitable. [13] With the insects now gone, the food chain is disrupted and birds along with other animals who depend on the insects for food must migrate to other places to find food to avoid starvation. [13] The flooding also affects flora because of more moisture in the soil which does not allow the plant to obtain adequate oxygen leading to suffocation of the plant. [13]


The use of pesticides is common in the production of avocados. [7] However, the number of pesticides used for the protection of avocados is above average because avocados are usually grown as monocultures, meaning that the only plants being grown in the area are avocados. [7] This leads to less biodiversity and makes the avocados more vulnerable to diseases or pests which is why there is high use of pesticides in the production of avocados. [7] Though the pesticides that are used have numerous benefits for the avocado plants, they also have several negative impacts on the environment. [5] The pesticides that kill insects and weeds are also toxic to many other forms of wildlife such as birds and fish. [5] Through the indirect killing of this these animals, habitat cycles are disrupted as the wildlife's predator's populations decrease due to starvation and the wildlife's prey's populations increase. [5] In addition, pesticides contaminate soil, water, and other vegetation through the runoff that occurs during rainfall. [5] The contaminated water is dangerous to both humans and marine life and the soil and vegetation that is exposed to pesticides can be rendered infertile alongside the quality of the seed being heavily reduced. [5]

Map showing Avocado exports from Mexico. [14]

Transportation impacts

Avocados are native to and mostly grown in the warm and tropical climates found in South America, most notably Mexico who is responsible for 34 percent of total avocado production. [15] This means that avocados have to be transported long distances to parts of the world where they cannot be grown. Avocados are typically transported through cargo ships and diesel trucks which contribute to emissions. [16] Shipping carries additional environmental impacts including heavy water pollution and a risk of oil spills. [17] Furthermore, avocados require additional infrastructure to be built such as distribution centres to aid in the transportation of produced avocados. [3] The added infrastructure carries economic costs that may divert government funding from other projects. [3] Additionally, the new infrastructure requires land development resulting in the loss of greenery, destruction of habitats, and deforestation. [3]

Social impacts of avocado consumption

Impacts in Meseta Purépecha, Michoacán, Mexico

Mexico provides approximately 40% of the world's demand for avocados. About 80% of that number is produced in Michoacán. [14] The increase in avocado consumption over the past few decades allowed for important profits in the region. It has become an important part of the economy. These benefits, however, came at high costs to local communities and the environment. Numerous communities suffered from land dispossession from the expansion of avocado orchards. When farmers ran out of private lands for planting, they turned to communal lands. This negatively affected the local communities' governance and management of land. In the municipality of San Juan Nuevo, over 50% of recently established orchards take up communal lands. Over 30% of existing mature orchards in the area rest on communal grounds. Furthermore, food security is becoming a larger concern due to subsistence crops being forced on to marginal lands to make room for orchards. These marginal lands are less rich in nutrients which leads to reduced production of crops. [18] Poverty and extreme poverty is still prevalent in the region even with the substantial profits from avocado production. Additionally, the already present criminal groups in the area became more active due to the possible profits from taking over the business. Violence in the region has increased as a consequence. [19]

What can be done moving forward?


Worldwide avocado consumption has had its largest impacts in South America, with 34% of world production taking place in Mexico. [9] As demand has increased, profits for growers and suppliers have followed suit, and this monetary success has led to further expansion and intensification of avocado production in Mexico. The resulting deforestation and landscape conversion have numerous environmental, social, and political considerations. Ecologically, as the native oak-pine forest in Michoacán are replaced with avocado orchards, vital ecosystem services are lost, including biodiversity habitat, soil and water regulation, and carbon sequestration. [3] On top of the ecological consequences, the socioeconomic situation surrounding avocado production is complicated. Smallholder avocado producers are struggling to compete with large holders, who are often foreign to Michoacán, with capital coming from México City or the United States. [3] Moving forward, a balance between the environmental degradation and economic incentives behind avocado production can be attained by incentivizing ecosystem service protection with avocado production systems. [13] Another popular food item that has seen similar environmental and social consequences is coffee. Here many management successful management techniques can also be applied to avocados. For instance, at a larger, regional scale, government agencies, NGO’s, and universities should play a larger role in regulating and modifying avocado management practices, distribution processes, and prices. However, the influence of these players should also reach back to the practices and people involved at the local scale of avocado cultivation.[13] One of the most challenging barriers to overcome is those individuals and landscapes that generate important ecosystem services at the local farm scale do not generally receive adequate income, incentives, and opportunities. The lack of direct compensation to farmers threatens their livelihoods and negatively impacts avocado ecosystems. [3]


Over the past 20 years, consumption of avocados due to their many diverse uses and health benefits has grown exponentially. Avocado consumption has grown for reasons beyond consumption as a food item but also because of its uses in the pharmaceutical, oil, and cosmetics industries.[20] Studies have shown the benefits of avocado associated in balanced diets, especially in reducing cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular diseases. The fluid extract in avocado leaves is widely used in pharmaceutical products, mainly due to the diuretic properties of compounds in plant leaves. [20] With the increasing research and popular media attention supporting the nutritional characteristics and benefits of avocado, production and exploitation of this raw material have grown drastically in countries such as Mexico and Brazil. The systems of production and provision that have risen to meet the demand for this trendy fruit have had devastating social effects, including displacement of indigenous populations, food insecurity, cartel violence and human rights abuses. [21] Although in recent years, our rates of avocado consumption have begun to slow, there is still a a great deal of work needed to improve the many negative societal impacts avocado consumption have created.

In summary, in order to build sustainable and avocado plantations, it is essential that we (1) incorporate worker livelihoods and well-being into global concepts of sustainability, (2) encourage farmers to diversify their avocado systems for greater resilience to global risk and climate change, and (3) improve certification and potential payment systems in order to compensate avocado farmers for the innumerable services that their avocado landscapes provide. [22]


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  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Cho, K., Goldstein, B., Gounaridis, D., & Newell, J. P. (2021). Where does your guacamole come from? detecting deforestation associated with the export of avocados from mexico to the united states. Journal of Environmental Management, 278(Pt 1), 111482.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 González-Estudillo, J. C., González-Campos, J. B., Nápoles-Rivera, F., Ponce-Ortega, J. M., & El-Halwagi, M. M. (2017, June 10). Optimal planning for sustainable production of avocado in Mexico. Process Integration and Optimization for Sustainability. Available at: Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":4" defined multiple times with different content
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  6. Fulgoni III, Victor L.; Dreher, Mark; Davenport, Adrienne J. (02 January 2013). "Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001–2008". Nutrition Journal – via BioMed Central. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 Kuchkuntla, Aravind R.; Limketkai, Berkeley; Nanda, Sanjeev; Hurt, Ryan T.; Mundi, Manpreet S. (2018). "Fad Diets: Hype or Hope?". Current Nutrition Reports: 310–323 – via Springer Link. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name ":6" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Buchholz, Katharina (Aug 2019). "Millennials Not Alone in Driving up U.S. Avocado Consumption".
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