Forests, locals harmed in Mexico’s avocado boom
Liliana Carmona misses the lush pine forest on the hills overlooking her village in western Mexico. She now stares at vast avocado orchards that feed a massive foreign appetite for the green fruit.
Growers have been cutting down swaths of forest to make room for more fruit trees in the state of Michoacan, the world’s avocado capital. Experts are now concerned that chemicals used in the orchards could be behind illnesses afflicting the local population. “The sneezing doesn’t stop when they are fumigating,” said Carmona, a stocky 36-year-old mother of two who works at a small grocery store in Jujucato, a village in the heart of avocado land.
In the 15 years that Salvador Sales has been teaching in Jujucato, he has seen his students come down with more and more breathing and stomach problems. “We believe this is caused by the products used to spray the avocado orchards,” said Sales, who believes that the wind blows the chemical fumes into the homes of his students.
About 40 percent of the world’s avocados are grown in Mexico, and most of those come from the area around Jujucato and Lake Zirahuen. Avocados occupy some 137,000 hectares (340,000 acres) of land in Michoacan, according to state government figures. Half of those orchards were planted in forests after the land was bought through dubious legal means, according to Jaime Navia, head of a rural technology NGO called GIRA. Deforestation is growing at a pace of 2.5 percent per year, according to GIRA.
Kidney and liver problems
Temperate weather in the region allows for year-round cultivation of avocado, a fruit that originated in Mexico and is loaded with vitamins, proteins and healthy fats. While there is a strong local demand, production has soared along with the avocado’s ever-growing international appeal, and forests have paid the price. Experts warn that the chemicals used in mountain orchards may be spilling down into ground water, streams, rivers and lakes, and subsequently causing illnesses among the population. Alberto Gomez Tagle, an expert on the environment in the Lake Zirahuen region, which includes Jujucato, said many communities that rely on the lake water may already be suffering from the effects of chemical runoff. — AFP
URUAPAN, MICHOACAN, MEXICO: Picture of avocados taken at an orchard in the municipality of Uruapan, Michoacan State, Mexico, on October 18, 2016.—AFP