Avocados: A Tale of Globalization, Environment, Business, and Violence

Friday, January 6, 2017: 11:10 AM
Room 601 (Colorado Convention Center)
Fernando PĂ©rez-Montesinos, University of California, Los Angeles
The avocado has been linked to human life for as long as 7,000 years. A Mesoamerican crop, it was disseminated to other world regions from the sixteenth century on. Only until very recently, however, did avocados gain a paramount global importance—a consequence, to a great degree, of NAFTA and the decision of the U.S. government to repeal its veto on importing the fruit from Mexico. Over the last two decades or so, this paper contends, avocados have brought about at least four major transformations. First, the landscape has been dramatically changed in the region where avocados are grown. Mexico is the single most important producer in the world with over 30% of the market; Michoacán and, particularly a region known as the meseta purépecha, harvest an overwhelming 80% of all Mexican production. There, in the meseta, the avocado boom has resulted in increasing deforestation, soil erosion, and water use. Second, a business worth billions of dollars has been created around avocado planting and commerce: it has been estimated that more than 1.3 million tons are now distributed across the U.S., France, and Japan every year. Third, this newfound wealth has attracted rent-seeking crime organizations. In the recent past, and for over decade, avocado producers and packers faced systematic extortions and violence. Although there have been some apparent security improvements, it is unclear whether things will deteriorate once more in the years to come. Fourth and last, avocados have changed consumption patterns around the world; they are now, part of the regular diet of millions in North America, Europe, and Asia.
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