In recent years, the avocado has become an ubiquitous part of our modern diets. From homemade guacamole to trendy toast toppings, it’s almost impossible to escape this food trend.
But is this seeming obsession with all things avocado having a detrimental effect on the environment? Are avocados bad for the environment? If so, how can we responsibly enjoy our favorite green super-food without causing damage?
In this post we’ll take a closer look at the environmental impacts of growing and consuming avocados and discuss ways that savvy earth-friendly consumers can make smart choices when shopping for their produce.
So grab your reusable grocery bag and let’s dive into all things avocado!
Are Avocados Bad for the Environment?
Avocados have become increasingly popular over the past few years. From avocado toast, avocado smoothies, to even avocado oil, it seems like avocados are everywhere these days.
No wonder, considering that they taste great (who doesn’t love that creamy texture) and comes with a host of health benefits. You can get fat soluble vitamins like vitamin K, vitamin E, and vitamin C from just a single avocado, not including all of the other nutrients. Avocados are true super-foods.
But what many of us don’t realize is that the growing demand for avocados is having a negative impact on the environment and climate change.
Avocado consumption has grown exponentially over the past few years, with global production increasing from 2.7 million tons in 2000 to 8.7 million tons in 2021. This increase in demand has put a strain on resources, as farmers must use more water and chemicals to keep up with consumer demand.
Furthermore, deforestation caused by large-scale monoculture avocado cultivation has had devastating effects on biodiversity in some regions where avocados are grown, especially for the Mexican avocado.
Not to mention that water usage is one of the most pressing environmental issues associated with increased avocado production. Avocado producers in Mexico, for example, may use an amount that far exceeds the sustainable limit set by local authorities, all in the name of chasing that “green gold” or “cash crop”.
Mexican avocados are a hot commodity, especially since Mexico has the tropical climates to grow them year-round.
Deforestation for Avocado Plantations: Who is Paying the Price?
Deforestation is an incredibly destructive process that reduces biodiversity, destroys habitats, and impacts our climate. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help to regulate temperatures.
When they are cut down they are no longer able to provide these services, meaning that more carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere.
This can have a huge impact on local climates and weather patterns, leading to more extreme weather events such as floods or droughts.
As well as impacting our climate, deforestation also devastates wildlife populations. By destroying their natural habitats, it makes it harder for animals to find food and shelter which can lead to their extinction if left unchecked.
Furthermore, it can disrupt food chains which can have far-reaching consequences for entire ecosystems.
For example, when trees are cut down there is less food available for insect species which feed birds or other animals higher up in the food chain who then starve due to lack of prey.
People are affected too, though most people only feel it when it’s time to check out at the grocery store. Rarer animals and produce command a higher price.
Pesticides and Pollution from Avocado Farms
These farms are often located in areas with steep terrain and difficult to access soil, making it challenging for farmers to maintain their crops.
As such, they turn to using chemical fertilizers and many pesticides to keep pests away from their precious avocados. Unfortunately, these chemicals can be damaging to the environment when used carelessly or excessively.
For example, runoff from these chemicals can contaminate nearby water sources and leach into soil, potentially poisoning plants and animals alike.
Additionally, some pesticides contain carcinogenic compounds that are hazardous to human health when ingested.
Furthermore, large scale farms require deforestation in order to make room for the trees which further contributes to air pollution due to the burning of wood during clearing operations.
This process releases harmful gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere which contributes significantly to global warming and climate change issues around the world today.
How Much Water Does it Take to Grow an Avocado?
Most avocados require a great deal of water because they grow in warm climates, meaning they need to be watered more often than other crops so that the plants can stay hydrated.
Additionally, many of the world’s commercial farms rely on irrigation systems which use vast amounts of water to grow and harvest avocados.
For example, in California, where 90% of avocados are grown in the US, farmers use 2 million gallons of water per acre each year—an amount that’s four times higher than other fruit trees grown in the region!
But when we use so much water for growing this “green gold”, it means that there is less of it to go around. It’s not uncommon for smaller towns and cities to run out of water that was used up by avocado producers.
Soil Erosion in Avocado Farming: Unsustainable Practices Taking Their Toll
Soil erosion occurs when topsoil is washed away by wind or water. This leaves behind exposed subsoils that are less able to support plant growth because they lack essential nutrients and minerals. It also makes the land more prone to flooding, which can damage plants and other crops.
In addition, soil particles that have been washed away can contaminate nearby streams and rivers, leading to further environmental damage.
The avocado industry is particularly vulnerable to soil erosion because many farms are located in steeply sloping hillsides or mountainside terrain that has already been deforested for agricultural use.
When trees are removed from these areas, the topsoil is left exposed, making it more susceptible to being carried away by rainwater or strong winds. This increases the risk of soil erosion significantly if proper measures aren’t taken to protect against it.
The Impact of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Avocado Production
A study conducted by Carbon Footprint Ltd affirms a small pack of two avocados has a hefty emissions footprint of 846.36g CO2. For comparison, that’s almost twice the size of one kilo of bananas (480g CO2). This means that even if you only buy one avocado at the store, you are contributing to global warming and its environmental impact.
In addition, the production and use of fertilizers on avocado orchards contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.
Fertilizers release nitrous oxide into the atmosphere when they break down in soil. Nitrous oxide is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere. In fact, nitrous oxide is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide!
So even if you are buying organic avocados grown without synthetic fertilizers, there may still be some greenhouse gas emission from their production due to natural fertilization methods used by farmers. Still, it’s usually better than non-organic avocados.
What’s Being Lost When We Farm for Avocados? Local Communities, Biodiversity and More…
The global demand for avocados has skyrocketed in recent years, and with it has come a massive increase in production.
Unfortunately, this growth has often come at the expense of local communities who have seen their land taken away from them without their consent or compensation. In many parts of Mexico where avocados are produced, indigenous communities have been pushed off their ancestral lands to make way for new avocado farms.
This displacement can have devastating impacts on these communities who rely on the land to sustain themselves.
Avocado Trees Impact Biodiversity
The farming also takes its toll on biodiversity in avocado-producing countries like Mexico and Peru. As more land is cleared away to make room for new farms, native flora and fauna are being pushed out or destroyed completely.
Loss of habitat can mean extinction or significant population declines for certain species; fragmentation of habitats can lead to population isolation and genetic erosion; and increased use of pesticides can cause further disruption to already fragile ecosystems.
All these factors add up to long-term damage that will take decades to repair—if ever.
Avocados require large amounts of water and fertilizer as well as other inputs like pesticides which can all take their toll on soil quality and soil nutrients over time.
Chemical runoff from farms into local waterways can also contaminate drinking water sources used by nearby communities resulting in health problems related to exposure to toxins like heavy metals and pesticides.
Moving Towards Sustainable Avocado Farming: What Can Be Done?
As demand for the product increases, how can we ensure that avocado farming is done sustainably? Let’s take a look.
Water Conservation Strategies
Avocado trees need a significant amount of water in order to thrive. In some areas, such as California and Mexico, that water has to come from reservoirs, so it’s important to develop strategies for conserving water.
One option is to use drip irrigation systems, which allow farmers to deliver exactly the right amount of water directly to the roots of their trees without wasting any on runoff or evaporation.
This type of system also helps reduce disease and weed growth, both of which can have a detrimental effect on harvests.
Organic farming is an important part of sustainable agriculture practices when it comes to avocado trees. Organic farming requires farmers to use natural fertilizers and pest control methods instead of synthetic chemicals that may harm the environment.
In addition, organic practices help preserve soil health for future generations by reducing erosion and maintaining healthy levels of valuable nutrients in the soil.
This ensures that avocado trees continue producing high-quality fruit with minimal environmental impact for years to come.
Sustainable Packing Materials
Another important factor in sustainable avocado production is the use of sustainable packing materials.
Many farms now use biodegradable packaging materials made from post-consumer recycled materials whenever possible.
Additionally, many have adopted reusable shipping containers that can be sent back and forth between farmers and buyers multiple times before they eventually wear out and need replacing — thus reducing waste even further!
As for what you can do personally, here are a few tips:
Buy Organic and Local When Possible
Whenever possible, buy organic and local avocados. Organic farming practices use fewer chemicals than conventional farming methods and therefore have less of an impact on the environment.
Local produce also requires fewer transportation resources to get from farm to store or table, which reduces its carbon footprint. Plus, buying local supports small businesses in your community!
If you need avocados when they are not in season, try to limit the amount that you buy. Remember that a Mexican avocado produces more greenhouse gases and will typically be more expensive.
Replant Trees as Needed
Avocado-producing farms need trees for their crops to grow in but they can quickly become overgrown if not properly managed. To help keep this from happening, many farms are replanting trees as needed so that they don’t deplete their land’s natural resources.
If you’re ever buying avocados from a farm, ask if they practice tree replanting and encourage them to do so if they don’t already!
Eat Avocados with Other Foods
Avocado is a great source of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber – but eating it alone isn’t necessarily sustainable for the environment.
Instead, try incorporating avocado into other dishes like salads or wraps with other local ingredients and veggies.
This way you can still enjoy the benefits of avocado without putting too much strain on the environment.
Avocado is a delicious, nutritious food that has become increasingly popular in recent years — but with this popularity comes the need to ensure that it’s farmed and harvested sustainably. There’s no need to condemn the avocado tree as long as it’s enjoyed sustainably and responsibly.
By conserving water, practicing organic farming techniques and utilizing sustainable packaging materials, farmers can make sure their avocado crops have minimal environmental impact. Likewise, consumers can do their part by buying organic and local avocados and eating avocados with other fresh ingredients. Enjoying a rich avocado salad is a worthwhile experience.
With everyone doing their part, we can enjoy delicious, nutritious avocados (and avocado toast) for years to come — all while minimizing the environmental impact of avocados. Consider going green today!