When they say guac is extra, they mean that your avocado obsession is leaving thousands in Chile disenfranchised and plagued by drought.
Photo via Flickr user Kjokkenutstyr Net
Is it possible to remember a time before full avocado saturation? From the piles of guac that crown our nachos to the toasts that crowd our Instagram feeds, the beguiling green fruit has become as ubiquitous on our grocery lists as eggs and milk. Hell, people are even using avocados to hide engagement rings and propose to their partners—people we don’t know and wouldn’t willingly fraternise with, just to clarify.
Here’s the thing about avocados, though. They’re a subtropical crop that can only thrive within specific ecosystems. Native to Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies, this favoured companion to toasts of all stripes favours hot, humid growing conditions. Basically, if you live in a place that has a cold winter, and you’re eating avocados, you can bet they come from somewhere far, far away.
Such is the case in the UK, where, according to an article published in The Guardian last week, British enthusiasm for imported avocados is sucking the life out of a Chilean growing region called Petorca. As the country’s largest avocado-producing province, Petorca supplies major UK supermarket chains including Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl with the majority of their avocado imports. And in order to keep up with British demand for the fruit—which surged by 27 percent in the last year alone—growers are allegedly illegally diverting groundwater to their crops, leading to drought that forces villagers in the region to drink water trucked in by the government. Residents allege that the water is contaminated, forcing them to boil it or spend their earnings on bottled water.
“Here there are more avocados than people, but only people are lacking water, never the avocados,” said Veronica Vilches, an area activist who helps distribute the “potable” drinking water.
In 2016, Chile exported more than 17,000 tons of avocados to the UK; of that figure, about 67 percent were grown in the Valparaiso region where Petorca is located. A naturally dry region that receives little rainfall, Petorca depends on groundwater to supply its dense network of avocado plantations. A supremely thirsty fruit, just one kilogram (about two pounds) of avocados demands 2,000 litres of water—four times the amount needed to produce the same amount of oranges, and ten times what is needed to produce a kilo of tomatoes, according to the Water Footprint Network. In order to keep up with the fruits’ intensive water needs, villagers say, the region’s growers install illegal pipes and wells, diverting water from rivers and causing them to dry up. In 2011, satellite surveillance by Chile’s water authority found at least 65 of these underground channels—and the problem has only worsened since then.
As a result, there’s little clean water left for residents to drink, water their own gardens or wash with, they say.
“Every cultivated hectare requires 100,000 litres of water per day, an amount equivalent to what a thousand people would use in a day,” Rodrigo Mundaca, an agronomist and activist, told The Guardian.
As a result of the drought, villagers in Petorca are allotted 50 liters a day of water that’s delivered by cistern trucks, but they say it’s dirty and loaded with contaminants. The water quality was tested in 2014 and found to have high levels of coliform, bacteria found in feces.
“In order to send good avocados to Europeans, we end up drinking water with shit in it,” Vilches told the paper. The British Retail Consortium, which represents the nation’s major grocery chains, told the The Guardian that the retailers would investigate the situation.
This isn’t the first time avocados have stirred up controversy more substantial than whether or not peas belong in a batch of guacamole. In 2016, renegade farmers in Mexico were detained after they were found to be cutting down protected pine forests in order to expand their orchards. And last year, research conducted by the food tech firm It’s Fresh! revealed that the carbon footprint of avocados is twice as great as that of bananas and three times as great as that of coffee.
The takeaway is clear: Avocados are destroying the environment and ruining lives. It’s something to think about—in addition, of course, to your supreme idiocy—the next time you want to slip a diamond ring inside one. Guac is, indeed, extra.