The avocado is an interesting fruit, a hold-over from a time long past. The seed is too large for most of today’s animals to properly disperse, and for two million years it barely survived on the backs of rodents before the Aztecs began cultivating them for food. Today, the avocado’s existence is again threatened, but not by underuse. In fact, the opposite is true: humans are eating too many of them.
Although America’s infatuation with avocados seems to be far from over, the supply chain may put a damper on the fast-growing favorite. For nearly 200 years, avocados were one of many crops produced in Mexico, including corn, soybeans and sugar. When it reached “superfood” status, however, things began to change. U.S. consumption has grown between 10% and 30% every year since 2010, according to the Hass Avocado Board, and Mexican producers cannot keep up with American demand.
The rising costs of avocados have priced out the very families who farm the crop, according to National Geographic. Farmers instead have become more willing to maximize earnings by exhausting their land and water resources. It takes nearly 100 gallons of water to create one pound of avocados, and aquifers in Chile and Mexico are being drained quicker than they can be replenished. Clearly, drought concerns on the West Coast have also put a damper on avocado production. In Florida, the second largest supplier of avocados in the U.S., farmers are fighting laurel wilt which is devastating crops and limiting an important source of international supply.
Managing supply and demand is always a fickle business, especially when it comes to perishable crops that humans don’t have complete control over. Will avocados reach a breaking point in sustainability? If another superfood doesn’t supplant America’s newest darling, I think it’s safe to say it will. The only question is: when?