By Rico R. Magda

There has been a silent contest among the major producers  of this unique ‘green-gold’ avocado as to who would be on the top list of suppliers or exporters. There have been many contenders but the production of this ‘green-gold’ fruit is creating some drawbacks like droughts or scarcity of useable domestic water, deforestation, etc. to name a few. Producer countries, however, deny such bad effects and claim otherwise that sales have been beneficial to national economic development. The controversy surrounding the stuff seems unabated though one thing is sure: Avocado will remain as the mainstay export crop and a favorite domestic diet.

Avocado, a very thirsty tree

In 500 BC, the Aztecs in Mexico named ‘avocado’ as ‘ahuacatl’ fruit as it hangs from the tree as testicle, which greatly resemble the male part. Avocado (Perseaamericana) appears as a common fare for trendy magazines and social media. Its growing practices, however, have griping disadvantages to the exportingcountries due to its gargantuan needs for irrigation water during the fruiting stage, reducing the growing countries with depleted or scarce water supply. Despite this apparent drawback, the popularity of this stuff marches on. A report has it that avocado exports have increased from 230 million kg in1990 to 1,300 million kg in 2000 despite some precautions of water scarcity.

Due to lucrative international trade of avocado, more forestlands in Mexico have been converted to avocado plantations. In 2000 to 2010, an estimateof 20,000 hectares of forestlands are converted in Mexico resulting to1,700 acres of deforested lands each year.

It takes more water to produce, let’s say a kilo of avocado in comparison with other fruits. One kilo of avocado needs about four times (about 20 gallons) of irrigation water than producing the same weight of oranges, and 10 times that of tomato. Facing reality, avocado-growing countries have been experiencingdryness and scarce water resources. This experience has been enhanced by climate-change factors, which led them prospecting for potable water even up to 100 meters or more down. Water scarcity model

A water scarcity model is used to estimate the impact of water usage. For example, this shows that Mexico where half of the world trade for avocado takes place, has the highest WSF (Water Scarcity Footprint) rate of 27%. Chile follows Mexico with 22%; then Israel with 12%; USA 11%; Australia 7%; South Africa 5.6%; Rwanda 5%; Peru 3.6%; Spain 3%; and Morocco 1%.

Despite of all the infringement of basic rights for water and the destruction of natural habitats, tenacious producer countries are not giving up.

Here’s a brief UN report on Chile’s water scarcity. As Chile’s ‘greengold’ fruit booms, some looming tensions brought by water scarcity (big producers vs local residents) loom on the horizon.

Let’s use Chile as a frame for ‘successful’ raising of avocados for the international market. The world’s demand for the fruit has been on tremendous rise. Zeroing on Petorca City, Chile’s north of the capital Santiago, is a booming avocado business. This site produces most of the avocado fruits, which makes Chile as the world’s third largest exporter. Lately, however, residents have noticed that the backside of this booming trade has a gloomy result surfacing: local water supply has considerably dried up.

With water scarcity arising from water use manipulation and the prevaling climate change, Chile may be facing hunger.They attribute the increasing water depletion to bigavocado companies manipulating water use that cause severe shortage. As free water becomes scarce in local communities, villagers now just rely on the weekly rationed water by government trucks. Residents, however, have commented on the safeness of the said water. Noticeably, some families have left Petorca’s community due to this problem. Chile’s Water Code of 1981 says that individuals, companies, and producers can request government allocation and extraction of water. Such Code, however, seems not doable in poor communities.

Climate change and avocado farming The onset of climate change with fewer rainfalls contributes to the scarcity of water in the plantation site of Petorca. In 2006, big avocado companies came up with a good promise for economic benefits in uplifting the community life. But the rising drought has oiled a potential conflict between the community and the big firms. Initially, economic growth was observed from big investment in the ‘green-gold’ farming. But common avocado farmers have not been satisfied with the selective improvements  as they reasoned out that only the big avocado companies are the only ones that reap huge benefits. Common workers, on the other hand, have only benefited by short-term or seasonal employment.

The spiralling demand for more and more avocados in China, USA, and in Europe has put more demand on irrigation water between local residents and big firms on water rights. The situation creates tension and serious felony threats between local players and international firms. Some conflicts have been recorded by the California-based Pacific Institute from 16 cases in 1990 to 73 in 1995.

Big water reservoirs, the solution?The indiscriminate avocado farming in Petorca as revealed by satellite images some illegal ways of diverting water from rivers to plantation sites managed by private companies. Literally, the hills have become orchard with all the neededwater. Some avocado advocates have suggested building  big water reservoirs in Petorca  for immediate and emergency use particular on drier months. According to a report, local farmers have been continuously harping  the water authority on building some water reservoirs. And one of the current projects has on its program of building bigger reservoir costing some  two billion  US dollars. Recently, a mass inspection has been carried out in some Petorca’s plantation sites to monitor some illegal extraction and building of illegal wells. Some companies were identified resorting to illegal connections and were fined.

Is avocado farming has really caused water scarcity or drought in Chile’s central district? An 18-month long study by the UN in Chile is negating that effect. The study, on the contrary, has even concluded that the avocado industry has contributed to the environment and the community. According to a report, from the Water Centre for Arid and Semi-Arid Zones of Latin America andthe Carribean (CAZALAC-UNESCO) basing on the study results, shows that the avocado industry complies with the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought while contributing to biodiversity, conserving humidity, preventing soil erosion, and providing economic development to the community. The study leader of that report said that saying avocado is responsible for drought is ‘irresponsible’ since there is water scarcity in Chile since 1540. Accusing that avocado farming as the cause of water scarcity was based on ‘wrong vision and emotion’ according to an account of the report.

Currently, the domestic price of avocado in Chile is higher than the export price, which makes companies to tone down their export programmes. Production has been down by 40-50% due to prevailing drought. High temperature during flowering stage also greatly affected the production phase. Retail price has reached to $6.50 per kg. Since avocado in the domestic market has become expensive, Chile has turned to Mexico and Peru to fill the current domestic supply. Meanwhile, Peru floods the European markets while Mexico sends substantial volume to US, China, and South Korea at bottom prices. Chile’s avocado has not failed, however, shipping out successfully air and seafreighted fruits to Australia with prices on level with the domestic market. So far, Chilean exporters expect that avocado production will be normalized for the next cropping as shown by vigorous flowering and fruit setting.

Brief focus on global avocado markets So far, the export of avocados from Peru has been declining same as for other suppliers from South Africa, Kenya, and California (USA). The supply comes now from other exporting countries like Columbia, Italy, Spain, and Mexico. The price has been on the rise.

Due to oversupply caused by the pandemic, the Mexican avocado has been pushed back by two months. So instead of shipping in July, exportation started in May. So far, the supply and demand have been stabilized and growers expect higher volumes in the coming months.

At the start, Peru avocados had low demand due to pandemic and now recovering. Currently, Peru plans to expand its market to US and Europe starting the spring of 2021.

Columbia plans to be one of the big producers and potentially has the capability of producing the year round. Currently, its market is focussed on Europe while eyeing possible markets worldwide.

Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, they dubbed now the ‘green-skin’ avocado as the green-skinned which they currently export as ‘tropical avocados’ with the aim of expanding the market to US. The Semil-34 variety dubbed as tropical avocado has a long shelf-life aimed at Texas and West Coasts markets.

The European market has a limited supply and expectedly, prices to rise. Supplies from Peru, South Africa, South Africa, Kenya, and Chile will soon decline and Israel has been coming to the rescue with large volumes of Ettinger variety to deliver. Despite the decreasing demand, summer prices have soared from 20 to 23 Euro per pack for ready-to-eat Hass variety.

In Germany, the avocado trade has been stabilizing during summer characterized by some oversupply and low prices due to lack of demand from the catering industry brought by the pandemic. France has same market scene. As supplies from Peru declines, France market has been switching to Chilean avocados.

In UK, when the last batch of Peruvian avocado is coming, UK now switches to Mexican and Columbian products. In Italy, the demand for avocado has increased despite the pandemic. Peru supplies the Hass variety. Sizes of 10, 12, 14 and 16 are the sought-after but with a limited supply. Despite the pandemic, consumption in Italy has grown by as much as 500%. Consumers see avocado as a superfood. Sicilian avocado farms are not yet in full production this year and they’re on just 50% capacity. This season’s fruits are mostly Hass variety with some small amount of Fuerte variety. South African avocado and rhe Peruvian Hass have surfaced on the market place. Hass costs about €21/4kg.

In China, as young generation now with health-oriented lifestyle, prefers nutrient-rich food like avocado. Although China produces avocado domestically, buyers still rely on imports from Chile, Peru, and Mexico. Currently, the price of avocado is on the rise.

Japan has found a new avocado import partners in Indonesia. As Japan does not grow the fruit itself, it heavily relies on imports from Chile, Peru, US, New Zealand and Vietnam. Japan is known to have astringent requirements when they come to importing fruits and vegetables. Strict rules, however, are not observed as more avocado supply is needed by Japanese consumers. Japan avocado imports have increased steadily to 74,000 tons in the last five years.

In California, USA, yield of 77,000 tons have been estimated. Prices may start at $1.70 in April and could sharply increase to $2.30 per half kilo. US imports avocado from Mexico and Peru. When the price of Mexican avocado has risen sharply on the US market, Peru would ship a large portion intead of Europe. When avocado supply from California and Peru has slowed down, a sharp price increase is expected and the supply now comes from Mexico.

Nutritional benefits of avocado

Fruit lovers consider avocado not  a simple fruit. While most table fruits are loaded with cabohydrates, avocado, on the other hand, is very rich in healthy and safe fats. In facts, avocado has great benefits backed up by research.

Avocado has intrinsic nutients with excellent flavor and texture that enhance various dishes like guacamole. It has been given the ‘super-food’ status due to its popularity and nutritional composition. In the fruit market, you’ll find avocado in different shapes and color from green to black. They weigh from 8 ounces (220g) to 8 pounds (1.4kg).

Alligator pear or the Hass variety is the most popular type of avocado. Hasshas green rough skin like alligator with yellow-green flesh inside. In a single 3.5- ounce (100g) slice, the following nutrients are found: Vitamin K, 26% of the daily value; Vitamin C, 17% of the DV; Potassium, 14% of the DV; Folate, 20% of the DV; Vitamins B5, B6, E, with 14, 13, and 10% of the DV respectively. Some trace amounts of copper, iron, zinc, phosphorous, manganese, magnesium, Vitamins A, B(thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), and B3 (niacin) are found. The 3.5-ounce slice gives 160 calories, 2g of protein and 15g of healthy fats. Avocados have no cholesterols or sodium but with low saturated fats.

Sometimes consumers don’t get enough Potassium in their diet. With avocado, high amount of this substance becomes available, which could maintain healthy blood pressure level. This fruit has monounsaturated fatty acid good for the heart in the form of oleic acid with health benefits similar to olive oil.

A 3.5-ounce serving gives 7g of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which is 27% of RDA. Fibers are important in the body’s weight loss and metabolic health. Consuming avocado can reduce bad cholesterol of up to 28% and triglycerides level of up to 20% while increasing the good cholesterol of up to 11%. Remember that heart disease is the common cause of death. In a study, analyzing data from 17, 567 participants of dietary habits and health of people who eat avocado, researchers have found out that avocado consumers have higher nutrient intake and much healthier than people who are not avocado eaters. They also have lower risk of  metabolic syndrome.

Other nutritional benefits of avocado Avocado oil mixed with salad or salsa can increase antioxidant absorption in the body some 2.6 to 15 fold. When you eat fat-soluble nutients like Vitamins A, D, K, and E, they need fat or oil  for the body to absorb. Or else, these nutrients are wasted into the drain. Beside helping the body in absorbing antioxidants, avocado in itself contains high antioxidants like luteinand zeaxanthin. These carotenoids can reduce the risk of having cataracts and macular degeneration associated with aging.

Though avocados have limited evidence of benefits for cancer treatment, test-tube studies suggest that they may be beneficial for patient having chemotheraphy in human lympocytes. It also suggests inhibition of growth of prostate cancer cells in the laboratory test. More human-based research, however, is needed. There’s also a strong suggestion that avocado extract may mitigate the symtoms of arthritis. It has the same effects as soybean oil extract in reducing osteoarthritis.

Avocados are a weight-loss food, which can help one to lose weight. People given with avocado in meal have 23% satisfaction with lower desire to eat  over the next five hours than people who did not  eat the fruit. It is naturally rich in fiber and low in carbs, which is good for trimming extra weight.

Avocados are healthy, delicious, and blendable with many kind of food preparations like salads, and other dishes making them easy to incorporate in your favorie diet. Being an excellent food with incredible taste and nutrients not found in ordinary diet, avocado makes itself a unique one.