Avocado from Mexico; big business threatened by cartels
The region's avocado boom, fuelled by increased consumption in the United States, lifted areas of western Mexico out of poverty in just 10 years. But the smell of money attracted gangs and cartels, who threaten this new prosperity.
The recent U.S. warning that it could remove inspectors from the orchards caused a chill in an industry with exports of 2.4 billion dollars a year.
Avocado producers live in fear of assaults and blackmail
Some producers are taking up arms. At the San Juan Parangaricutiro checkpoint, the vigilantes are calm, but alert. They say their crops are something worth fighting for.
If there was no avocado, I would go looking for work, possibly in the United States or elsewhere," said one of the guards, Pedro de la Guante, whose small plantation gives him more benefits than any other crop, legal or illegal.
Luis, another guard who asked that his last name not be used for fear of reprisals, listed the problems that came to town with the avocado boom: extortion, kidnappings, cartels, and fruit theft. These are the reasons why they mobilize, he said.
U.S. Inspectors Threatened
Mexican avocado producers have been living for years in fear of assaults and blackmail, but the situation took on an international character in mid-August, when a team of inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture was "directly threatened" in Ziracuaretiro, a town west of Uruapan, in Michoacán.
Although the agency did not explain what happened, local authorities said a gang assaulted the van in which the inspectors were traveling at gunpoint.
In future situations that result in a breach of security or show an imminent physical threat to the welfare of APHIS personnel, we will immediately suspend program activities," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a letter, referring to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service by its acronym.
Such a measure could block shipments and devastate the industry that supplies hungry U.S. consumers with guacamole and avocado toast. In 1997, Washington lifted the 1914 veto on Mexican avocados to prevent the arrival of weevils, crusts, and pests in local orchards.
The Michoacán-based Association of Export Producers and Packers of Avocado from Mexico published the letter, an unusual event that some in Uruapan interpreted as a gesture to alert criminals to the risk of wiping out the state's most prosperous industry if U.S. inspectors fail to approve exports.
The Threat of Avocado Plantation Cartels
The police chief of a locality west of the avocado belt, who asked not to be identified, described how it is to live with the cartel Inspectors. The organization is so present that he does not go to nearby Uruapan without an armed bodyguard escort. The bench in Michoacán receives its unusual name from the custom of its founders of combing their hair with a lot of hair gel to make their hair stand on end.
They've done everything, extortion, floor collection, they've blown drones out of us," the police said. "They would like to put (drug) laboratories in the orchards. But now Viagra is also the target. The Jalisco New Generation cartel is trying to enter Michoacán on several fronts. The cartels, police, and vigilantes are equally frightened by the violence of the Jalisco gang.
Mexico seeks to break the record of avocado export to the United States
The Association of Producers and Packers Exporters of Avocado of Mexico (Apeam), placed the first stone of what will be the Casa del Aguacate or Casa Apeam where producers, members of the Mexican government, as well as the United States, will be concentrated to project the export sector.
In a statement, the agency said that the numbers of shipments avocado from Mexico to the United States, show an increase of 5.23 percent in the volume sent over last season, reflecting that there was enough fruit to supply this and other markets.
"Avocado from Mexico plans to send 1'42,501 tons of Mexican avocado to the U.S. for the 2019-2020 season, while to other markets the projection is 188,513 tons".
With the help of the Hass Avocado Importers Association of Mexico (MHAIA), APEAM has worked to increase consumption of Mexican avocado in the neighboring country and thus promote the welfare of producers and packers from Michoacan.
Since 1997, APEAM has been the only cooperating partner of the United States, through the Department of Agriculture of that country, for the export of Mexican avocado; "it has also been in charge over the years of promoting the fruit under the brand Avocados From Mexico, its marketing arm".
Where does the word avocado come from?
The word avocado comes from the Nahuatl ahuacatl, which means "testicles of the tree". The oldest vestiges of the avocado go back to a cave in Coxcatlán, located in the region of Tehuacán, Puebla, and date from 8,000 a.C. The avocado tree can reach 20 meters in height, but it is generally kept at less than five meters. Its scientific name is Persea americana and there are more than 90 species on the continent, distributed from central Mexico to Central America.
There are three avocado breeds: Mexicana, auácatl (P.a. var drymioflia); Guatemalan, Quilauácatl (P.a. guatemalensis var.), and Antillean tlacozalauácatl (P.a. American var.), which give rise to a large number of hybrids, among the best known are the Fort, Hass, Bacon, Pinkerton, Gwen, and Reed.
In Mexico, the presence of around 20 species of avocado is documented. Mexico is the world's leading producer of this fruit: 48.3 percent of the avocado consumed on the planet is Mexican.
Avocado is rich in proteins, lipids, and vitamins (particularly A), as well as potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. In addition to fresh fruits, frozen, dehydrated pulp and oil extracts are used for the cosmetic industry. The leaves, seeds, and bark are used as a medicinal remedy and in the production of dyes. The trees are part of the coffee and cocoa orchards and the backyards of the houses.