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Avocado production under threat as climate heats up, says Christian Aid report

13 May 2024

Alamy

An avocado orchard in Santa Ana Zirosto, Michoacan state, Mexico

An avocado orchard in Santa Ana Zirosto, Michoacan state, Mexico

WORSENING droughts in countries that produce most of the world’s avocado crop is reducing yields, raising prices, and threatening livelihoods, Christian Aid says in a new report.

Climate change, and the extreme fluctuations in weather which result, is already having an impact on avocado growers in Mexico, the world’s biggest producer, and in other countries important to the trade, such as Burundi and Chile, which supply many of the UK’s avocados. The UK is the world’s seventh largest importer of the fruit.

The report, Getting Smashed: The climate danger facing avocados, says that regions suitable for growing the avocados are shrinking, and are expected to decline further — by up to 41 per cent — by 2050. Avocado-growing land in Mexico could be reduced by as much as 59 per cent, it says.

Avocados are a water-hungry crop: on average, 320 litres of water are needed to produce just one avocado. Honor Eldridge, the author of the book The Avocado Debate, said that many avocado-producing countries were already experiencing water stress. In Chile, avocado trees are falling victim to fungal disease after long droughts.

Other countries which produce crops are Spain, where last year the harvest was 60 per cent smaller than the previous year owing to the heatwave, and South Africa, where the impact of climate change on the crop threatens 8000 livelihoods, Christian Aid estimates.

Jolis Bigirimana, an avocado farmer and the founder of Farmer’s Pride Burundi, said: “In Burundi, climate change is a huge problem, especially for avocado growers. We are experiencing hot temperatures, heavy rain, and erosion, which is having a terrible impact on farmers’ productivity and their income.

“We only have a very short period of rainfall here in Burundi, and during that period avocado growers used to water their plants. But, because of climate change, the weather is now more extreme, and this has affected our productivity. It now costs us a lot of money to water our crops, which has affected our income and is a threat to our livelihoods.

“Climate change also reduces soil fertility, which leads to an extra cost of buying fertiliser, which reduces our incomes further. Because there is no irrigation system, farmers have to pay a water seller to bring water for the crops. If we had some irrigation, that would be much better and reduce costs.”

Avocado production in Mexico is also a source of income for dangerous-drug cartels, attracted by the fruit’s rising global popularity. Cartels extort money from avocado farmers, and have been clearing protected woodlands to make room for avocado groves. Droughts have led to increasing clashes between growers and local residents over claims that water is being illegally diverted to the avocado farms.

The global advocacy lead at Christian Aid, Mariana Paoli, said this week that more effort and money needed to be diverted to help vulnerable farmers adapt. “Agricultural communities in developing countries are already bearing the brunt of the climate emergency, and they rely on stable and predictable climates to feed their families. That is why its vital they receive a lot more financial aid to adapt to the changing climate.”

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