By Anni Reenpää and Giacinto Bottone
Avocados are healthy and look great on Instagram pictures. But what else do we know about avocados?
Between 2012 and 2016 the demand for avocado doubled in Europe, according to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports (CBI). This resulted in production companies rapidly increasing their avocado yield so they can supply the market’s demand.
While nutritionists are delighted with the high avocado demand due to the health benefits they bring, the rapid growth of production can have severe side effects for the environment.
According to research done by Carbon Footprint Ltd in 2017, the carbon footprint of just two avocados can be double that of one kilo of bananas.
The environmental concern focuses on the global impact of transporting, growing and ripening the small green fruit.
Avocado crops use a great amount of water, which may lead to water scarcity in remote locations across the world. For example, Petorca, Chile, rivers are drying up and locals are struggling to access water due to avocado production.
Deforestation is another concern related to the production of the exotic fruit. For instance, in Mexico, the increased demand of avocado production has led to the widespread destruction of the natural rainforest.
The European outlook
In Europe, The Netherlands functions as one of the main trade hubs for avocados in the continent. The tiny country takes up a huge slice of the European avocado supply, as it is both the second largest importer and exporter of the fruit in the world.
In 2016, most of the avocados imported to The Netherlands came from Peru, Chile, South Africa and Mexico.The environmental effect of production can be more taxing for some of countries compared to others.
“Please avoid consuming avocados from South Africa because of the water stress [they are] responsible for” Mariken Stolk, spokesperson of the Milieu Centraal, told The Scoop. The Milieu Centraal is an independent organizationis to persuade consumers to make more sustainable choices.
The Milieu Centraal uses an environmental score ranging from “A” to “E” to show consumers which fruits and vegetables are the most sustainable choices. “A” is the most environmentally friendly and “E” stand for products that have an environmental impact eight times higher than class “A”.
Avocados from South Africa are considered class “C”, which is four times more damaging than class “A”. The classification is given because of the water stress they represent, which the institute defines as the “water use in relation to water scarcity in an area.”
Although South African avocados are considered to be environmentally threatening, European nations are still eager to import them in order to satisfy their high demand.
“Most European buyers have a social code of conduct with which they will expect you to comply. For avocados, social compliance is important, although product quality is the top priority” reads the CBI report for Exporting fresh avocado to Europe.
Health and ecology
Many nutritionists agree that avocado is one of the healthiest ways to consume fat.
“We have been avoiding fat like hell” said Moniek Westerman, a Groningen based nutritionist, to The Scoop.
Although she is glad that healthy fats are becoming part of our eating habits, Westerman is aware of the environmental implications connected to food trends, including that of the avocado.
However, it’s a lot to keep in mind if you want to eat both healthily and in an eco-friendly manner. Westerman only gives information about the environmental impact of food if patients ask for it.
“I would like to, but they are my customers and they probably find the changes I suggest already quite big.”
Despite this, some organisations argue that changing to more sustainable eating habits doesn’t have to be extreme.
“Switching to a plant based diet, you can make already a huge impact,” said Rosa Kappert, spokesperson for The Green Shift, an organization that promotes a ‘greener’ lifestyle.
“You could limit your impact even more by only eating seasonal products” or checking the country of origin of the products, Rosa emphasized.
Frank Vanclay, professor of cultural geography at the University of Groningen, sees the all-year supply of products as bizarre.
“We have a system where urban people have no idea what rural agriculture is like. They’ve got no idea where their food comes from,” he added. “They want to have summer fruit in the middle of winter and sometimes they even want winter fruit in the middle of summer.”
The negative impact of food trends
Sudden food hypes or trends can shake the natural rhythm of agriculture.
“When change happens quickly, sometimes harm is created because other things don’t fall into place properly,” said Vanclay.
Moniek Westerman, from the Milieu Centraal, agrees. “There is a risk for the environment if some food products become a hype in a short time.”
However, Dr. Vanclay sees change in agriculture as something inevitable.
“Change is important because that’s innovation, that’s progress, that’s improvement that’s meeting demands, that’s adding value; so change has to happen”
The key here is how change is managed. Rapid increase in production, for example avocados, can be controlled with accurate certification and increasing the consumers’ trust in fair trade labels. But change can be made only if consumers make better decisions.
“If it does not affect consumer buying behavior, well, then there is no advantage in a producer doing this.”