Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Michoacán
The Mexican state of Michoacán is losing up to 1,000 hectares of forest each year due to illegal expansion of avocado farms.
The crisis has prompted the government to implement an emergency strategy to curb deforestation, which includes the establishment of a dedicated police unit to crack-down on illegal avocado farmers.
The expansion of crops is encroaching on pine and oak forests in the western state, in which forests cannot legally be converted to agricultural uses.
According to officials cited by the BBC, growers are illegally starting fires, then using the denuded land for avocado cultivation. Another “furtive” method employed, according to officials, is planting avocado trees in forests, then removing native species when they reach maturity.
The BBC cites statistics from the National Institute of Forestry, Agriculture and Livestock, which suggest that between 600 to 1,000 hectares of forest are cleared each year to grow avocados in the State.
The Secretary of Urban Planning and Environment estimates that there are 20,000 hectares of illegal avocado crops. A further 120,000 hectares of crops are officially registered.
Approximately 85 per cent of Mexico’s avocados are exported to the US. Michoacán is the leading state for avocado production in Mexico, accounting for 85 per cent of total avocado production in the country in 2014, according to the USDA.
Between 2004 and 2014, the state lost a total of 9,600 ha of pine and oak forest, according to government figures. Most of the deforestation took place to give way to avocado orchards.
The volcanic forests in Michoacán are home to the Monarch butterfly, on IUCN’s red list of threatened species. The use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture is said to be a major cause of its decline.
Authorities in Mexico have reportedly already detected small avocado orchards in areas inhabited by monarch butterflies in the state, where farmers had felled pine forest. Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) inspectors recently shut down three farms for illegal land use change for avocado production in the municipality of Tancítaro. 179 trees over an area of 28.3 hectares had been felled to grow 8928 avocado plants.
This post was updated on 14 October 2016.