Avocados bad for water

Our increasing appetite for avocados is draining producers

The world’s rush for avocados has been going strong in the last 20 years. Yet, not everything is good about this healthy, trendy fruit. It has been blamed for fuelling violence and ecosystem destruction. Now scientists say avocados are bad for water too.

An avocado water crisis

It takes 227 litres of water to mature one avocado. Sell the fruit and the embedded water goes too. Avocado-related virtual water exports more than quadrupled in the last years, says a recent study.

Scientists worry it is water-stressed countries that are running dry. Foreign demand is responsible for a third of the water impact created by avocado production, the study shows. The world’s biggest avocado producers and exporters, Mexico, Peru, and Chile have less water and use it more poorly than top importers USA, Canada, and the EU. As the virtual water trade flows in the wrong direction, producers’ internal water supplies continue declining.

Take Michoacan, Mexico’s biggest avocado-producing region. Avocado exports are rising, while the water table suffers, and drought threatens yields. Yet Mexico’s virtual water exports rose by 867 per cent between 2000-2016. On the receiving side, the US’s imports of water through avocados grew more than 800 per cent over the same period, while the EU’s almost tripled.

Who’s responsible?

“Big avocado exporters use three times the water they have available to produce avocados,” says Dr. Simone Borghesi, professor at the University of Siena and the study’s co-author. “Rather than enriching them, international trade can end up worsening exporters’ environmental and social issues. People worry about causing carbon emissions through food. While CO2 is a global problem, water stress is a local one and developed countries tend to ignore impacts they don’t feel. We should be a bit more responsible about trendy foods. We satisfy demand, but we create long-term problems.”

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