High avocado prices and shortages are hitting the U.S. In Mexico, the avocado is called oro verde, green gold, because it yields more cash than any other crop, including marijuana. In the U.S., the avocado has never been more popular, with consumption per person at 6.1 pounds in 2014, more than triple the figure from 2000. The U.S. leans on Mexico for its avocados. Mexico’s field workers and drug cartels influence avocado prices and production. In early November, these factors converged to produce avocado shortages in the U.S. and record avocado prices that have tipped stock market charts at $64 a share, up from $15 earlier in the year.
Avocado Prices Soar
Micah Jenkins of Three Carrots (vegan) restaurant in Indianapolis said that before the current shortage, a “decent price” was $30 to $45 per case of avocados. With the shortage, the price of avocados, which are pollinated by bees, is as high as $86.
“It was a $40 increase,” says Jenkins. Three Carrots has four avocado-rich dishes and an avocado salad dressing. The price increase has forced the restaurant to raise the price of its Avocado Toast from $5 to $6.50 and to remove the extra avocados they placed on sandwiches and salads.
Jenkins does not know why the shortage is happening — and to be honest, neither do most Americans. Officially, the shortage (and subsequent avocado prices) is due to a strike by avocado pickers. But the unofficial rumor is that, it’s a drug cartel battling for control of the Mexican avocado industry. The truth is likely a lot of each.
The Christian Science Monitor quotes avocado importer Phil Henry as saying, “Most of the growers in Mexico have wanted to harvest, but it’s been a small minority of growers that have wanted to exert this work stoppage.”
The Hass Avocado Board reports that the week of Oct. 23, Mexico produced 51,733,821 pounds of avocados, but the following week produced only 49,388,248 pounds, followed up by 33,710,067 pounds.
However, with the return of avocado pickers in the first week of November, the shortage should soon be over — for now. The Avocado Producers and Exporting Packers Association of Mexico (APEAM) reports that more than 1,000 picking crews are back in the fields.
The Hass Avocado Board projects that Mexico will produce 50,870,861 pounds of avocados again. “The interruption in harvesting was driven by internal industry issues that have been addressed with mediation by the Michoacán State Government and the Mexican Department of Agriculture (SAGARPA),” APEAM said in a statement visible on FreshFruitPortal.
“The primary issue revolved around sales negotiations between the growers and packers.
“It is important to note that these issues do not fall within APEAM’s purview, as APEAM has no role in the private negotiations between growers and packers. However, APEAM has been using its influence to promote dialogue and agreement between the parties.”
The Dark Side Of Guacamole
According to Latin Times, Los Caballeros Templarios Guardia Michoacana — translated as Knights Templar Michoacana Guard — a drug cartel in the southwestern state of Michoacán makes roughly two billion pesos a year with an avocado protection racket — that’s about $152 million. According to the BBC, the Knights Templar are mostly remnants of the late Nazario Moreno Gonzalez’s La Familia Michoacana gang. Gonzalez, who quoted Bible verses to justify kidnapping and executing opponents, according to Wikipedia, frequently promoted members based on attendance at prayer meetings as well as their sharpshooting skills. Based loosely on the medieval military order dedicated to protecting Jerusalem and the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar claim to fight materialism, respect women and children, defend the poor, not kill for money, and not use drugs — according to FOX News, they even drug test members.
While the cartel has this code of ethics and is a semi-religious slant — according to Tribal Analysis Center one passage in their “Bible” reads “A Knight Templar understands that there is a God, a life created by Him, an eternal truth and a divine purpose in the service of God and Mankind” — they’ve been blamed for everything from counterfeiting to murder.
“The cartels, say residents, have stuck their hand deep in the industry’s pockets,” reports Latin Times. “For each hectare of land used by growers, according to El Economista, they demand a quota of 2,000 pesos (about $152). Then they extort the fruit sellers — between one and three pesos (8-23 cents) for each kilo. If they don’t pay, there’s retribution: In April, two avocado packing plants were burned after the owners refused.”
KCET reports, “The extortion fees are non negotiable, says one farmer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “It’s no use trying to convince them to demand less,” he says. “They know exactly how much you own. If you lie to them, they’ll kill you or one of your family members.”
Sin Embargo wrote that the Knights Templar know “with the precision of a watchmaker” how many acres each of the state’s 22,000 farmers own, how many plants each farmer has, how many tons of avocados they produce and which packing plants they’re sold to. They also know the first and last names and addresses of the growers. When asked how, a group of farmers replied “Ah, easy … They know how many we have because they have direct access to the licenses which the local Vegetal Health Committee gives out … The Committee controls and physically inspects each meter of the hectares, each plant, every tree and also the quality of each fruit.”
In other words, the government is colluding with the cartel.
Farmers Fight Back
Mexican farmers have had enough of the Knights Templar and their “either you take this money or I give it to your widow” extortion. They’ve formed groups of heavily armed militias and declared open season on the cartel and corrupt government officials. The federales are also cracking down, and in some cases deputizing the militias to serve as a police force. The result is a war among the Knights Templar, citizen militias, the government, and other cartels such as the New Generation Jaliscos.
According to journalist Tom Wainwright, the Knights Templar want to spread their risk “like any other big business.”
“In most cases, it’s not a question of cartels actually growing and marketing the products themselves — more a matter of them seeing avocados as a successful local business that is ripe for extortion,” Wainwright said in a VICE interview.
“A trend we’ve seen in recent years, with cartels like the Zetas and also the Knights Templar, is that they’re moving away from the traditional drug-transportation business and toward a business model which is all about controlling territory and running all of the criminal rackets in the area, from drugs to extortion and kidnappings. The Templars would happily tax or extort anything that moved. It just so happens that two of the big businesses in their home state, Michoacán, are avocados and limes.”
Quietly, avocado farmers complain that they are going bankrupt due to the cartels, which is why they must continually raise their avocado prices.
International groups are split on how to handle the drug cartel’s control of avocados. Some advocate for a boycott of Mexican avocados to starve the cartel of its income. Others say that will simply hurt farmers and the Mexican government.
So the question of just how long we’ll have to suffer occasional steep avocado prices and shortages of our beloved avocados remains unsolved.
A Few More Issues To Battle Against High Avocado Prices
There are also additional issues that threaten to raise avocado prices increasingly higher in the months to come. Mexican avocados may be subject to a sun blotch pest, according to the European Journal of Plant Pathology. Sun blotch is a disease that results in a poorer quality crop and lower yield, according to GardeningKnowHow. Costa Rica is so fearful of this that they currently have a ban against Mexican avocado imports. Mexico has complained about the ban to the World Trade Organization. The Packer reports that U.S. officials have backed Mexico.
Then there’s U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump who has vowed to do away with trade agreements in Mexico and Central America. How this plays out is anyone’s guess, but it’s shaping up to be a bad time in history for guac lovers.
Unless you’re very, very rich.
Organic Avocados Growing
Mexico is estimated to have more than 110,000 organic farms, more than any other country, according to PCCNaturalMarkets.com. The number is growing; Mexico’s certified organic acreage increases by 32 percent per year. While organic avocados account only for an estimated 4 or 5 percent, according to Produce News, Mexican farmers realize that there is a market, and are responding accordingly.
According to PCCNaturalMarkets.com, for a food to be sold as organic in the U.S., it must meet certain United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program, regardless of country of origin. WhatsOnMyFood.org reports that the most common–indeed, the only–pesticide residue found in conventionally farmed avocados is Imiprothrin, and it’s found in 1.1 percent of the crop. The Environmental Workinng Group, however, lists avocados as first on their “Clean 15” list–meaning it’s the least likely to hold pesticide residue.
Nutritional Benefits of Avocado Include Good Fat
MedicalNewsToday.com notes that avocados are the only fruit that provides a healthy dose of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Avocados contain almost 20 vitamins and minerals. They are good at fighting LDL (bad) cholesterol and good for vision. MedicalNewsToday.com reads “Half of an avocado provides approximately 25 percent of the daily-recommended intake for vitamin K, a nutrient that is often overlooked, but which is essential for bone health. Vitamin K is often overshadowed by calcium and vitamin D when thinking of nutrients important for maintaining healthy bones, however, eating a diet with adequate vitamin K can support bone health by increasing calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.”
Avocados also lower the risk of cancer, help prevent birth defects, lower the risk of depression, are an excellent way to detoxify, improve digestion,, and provide a way to fight chronic disease.
“According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one serving (one-fifth of an avocado, approximately 40 grams) contains 64 calories, almost 6 grams of fat, 3.4 grams of carbohydrate, less than a gram of sugar, almost 3 grams of fiber and almost 1 gram of protein,” MedicalNewsToday.com reports. “Avocados are a great source of vitamins C, E, K, and B-6, as well as riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta-carotene and omega-3 fatty acids.”
So it’s good for you–the question is just how much are we willing to pay for a superfood?
Becky Oberg is a professional writer living in Indianapolis. She enjoys acting, singing, playing video games, and playing with her pet rats. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, and on her blog, One Woman and a Laptop. You can find her ebook, “Comforting Tamar”, on Amazon.
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