Mexican avocado continues its journey

In the Mexican agricultural sector, avocado is one of the most economically relevant products, due to its production and export volume. Annually, more than two million tons are produced and around one million 196 thousand tons are exported; and the State of Michoacán is the one that contributes with 82% of this production.

In municipalities with avocado production, such as Tancítaro in Michoacán, the sanitation and disinfection process is being carried out, prioritizing the health of workers. Photo: APEAM
In municipalities with avocado production, such as Tancítaro in Michoacán, the sanitation and disinfection process is being carried out, prioritizing the health of workers. Photo: APEAM

Mexico has at least 20 different species of avocado, and three races are recognized: Mexican, Antillean, and Guatemalan. Among the most commercialized varieties are: "Hass", "Criollo", "Bacon", "Fuerte" and "Pinkerton".

Among the benefits of the consumption of avocado is that it is a product rich in minerals such as magnesium and potassium, includes antioxidant properties for its high content of vitamin E, also, is one of the richest fruits in fiber, contains no cholesterol or sodium and is low in saturated fat, for all the above is recommended to include in the diet for a healthy diet.

For its part APEAM, in this health contingency by COVID-19 is working to continue offering national and international markets a top quality product in terms of taste, safety, traceability, produced efficiently and sustainably, adopting all health measures recommended by the Ministry of Health, implementing them to their producers and packers, to continue operating and ensure supply and income to this agribusiness.

Big business threatened by cartels

Small avocado farmers in Mexico armed with AR-15 rifles take turns to manage the security of a checkpoint against thieves and extortionists of drug cartels in San Juan Parangaricutiro, Michoacán, the heart of the production of this fruit that locals call "green gold".

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.

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.

By Mexicanist