Expansion plans for Avocaderia, a new Avocado bar in in Brooklyn, may need to be put on hold. Supply of avocado, the trendy “superfood,” has tightened in 2017 due to a late harvest and natural disasters in Mexico, Peru, and California, three large suppliers of the world’s avocado harvest. Mexico supplies 75-80% of all avocados consumed in the United States. Given recent trends in climate change, suppliers of avocados must adapt to changing growing conditions or consumers will continue to see a limited supply of their favorite food.
As drought and flooding continues to threaten the warm weather climates where avocados are grown, supply will be erratic, leading to higher prices and even the potential for discontinuation of avocado-based products for periods of time. If climate change is severe enough that growing becomes resource-intensive, some growers may choose to discontinue growing avocados and switch to a product less sensitive to climate change. This would lower avocado supply and disrupt the agricultural economic situation across Mexico.
In the United States, the face of Mexican avocados is “Avocados from Mexico,” a not-for-profit that coordinates the marketing activities of Mexican Hass Avocados Importers Association and the Association of Growers and Packers of Avocados from Mexico. They have a YouTube page and air commercials during sporting events like the Super Bowl. Avocado growers and packers, represented by this group, are increasingly aware of the need to respond to climate change to keep their ability to export avocados strong.
Avocados have a shelf life of about six weeks once harvested, which means that they must be transported from a variety of small growers, to packers, to wholesalers and/or retailers quickly and predictably. In order to mitigate the impact of climate change in the short term, growers must tighten up their supply chain communication with packers and distributors to provide early notice of potential shortages – given the fragmentation of sellers, this is a challenge. This then allows retailers to look for other sources to supply avocados. Groups like Avocados from Mexico help to tie together different groups in the avocado supply chain to improve communication. Additionally, some innovative growers are looking to find ways to use less water when growing avocados through creative land use and re-working their irrigation systems. This lessens the impact of drought on crops, but requires upfront infrastructure investment and will take longer to come to fruition.
While these changes are a promising start, they are not enough. As a centralized group of growers and packers, Avocados from Mexico should work to collectively educate all growers across the region about best practices so that others begin to think about how to grow despite potential drought going forward. Given the importance of avocados and the high export value, Avocados from Mexico could also consider lobbying for additional funding for irrigation infrastructure that small farmers might not otherwise be able to afford.
While avocados may not always be the trendy food of the moment, the implications of climate change on the avocado supply chain are real and could have a serious economic impact on people involved with the avocado industry across the world.
Although the demand for avocados is high, I am curious as to how a trade group can have an impact beyond just avocados. Is there room for organizations like Avocados from Mexico to work together with other fruit and vegetable industry groups in Mexico to lobby for the government to take a stronger stance on climate change? And, given the love for avocados in the United States, how might this group be able to influence perception here?
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