From avocado toast to guacamole, this superfood has stolen the hearts of foodies and the health conscious around the world. But where do avocados come from?
Avocados have become a huge food trend in the Western world, where the creamy fruit has become readily available in shops, cafes and restaurants. The avocado is considered a superfood and is popular in Europe because of its nutritional value. Avocados are high in calories, contain mostly monounsaturated fat and are good for cholesterol. The fruit is full of essential nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. But there’s a darker side to the fashionable fruit popular on toast or in salads. In Chile, one of the world’s largest suppliers, avocado cultivation has dramatic consequences and has been linked to water shortages, human rights violations and an environmentally damage. The province of Petorca has a long tradition of avocado farming. Once grown by small farmers, production has been soaring since the global avocado boom of the 1990s. Big landowners now dominate the avocado market there. And their business requires large amounts of water. It takes up to 1000 liters of water to grow one kilo of the fruit (about three avocados) – a lot more than for a kilo of tomatoes or potatoes. The region is suffering an acute water shortage, exacerbated by climate change. The riverbeds dried up years ago. Trucks bring tanks of water to families in need, while thousands of hectares of avocado groves just next door are watered with artificial reservoirs. Rodrigo Mundaca founded the NGO Modatima. He fights for the right to water – a right that’s guaranteed by the UN and that Chile has committed to. An aerial survey in 2012 revealed that 64 pipelines were diverting river water underground, apparently to irrigate the avocado fields. When the Modatima activists publicly voiced their criticism, they received death threats. Water became a commodity in Chile in 1981 under the Pinochet dictatorship, meaning it’s privatized. Those who offer the most money get water licenses, even for life, regardless of the potential consequences for the ecosystem. The avocado also has a pretty dire environmental footprint. They’re packaged to prevent damage and transported in air-conditioned cargo ships to Europe. The fruit then ripens in a factory in Rotterdam, before it’s sent “ready to eat” to German supermarkets. “Europe wants to eat healthily – at our expense,” says Mundaca.
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