Illegal deforestation for avocado production in Mexico spreads as US relaxes import controls

03.04.2017

Mexican authorities revealed this week that pine forests have been illegally felled to make way for an avocado plantation in a nature reserve in the country’s Mexico state.

The plantation was shut down by the Mexican attorney general’s office for environmental protection (PROFEPA). Officials found that, as well as illegally felling 37 hectares of forest, farmers had installed roads and irrigation systems in the reserve, which supplies much of Mexico City with drinking water.

Earthsight has previously reported on the increasing instances of illegal deforestation for avocado production in neighbouring Michoacán state, which produces 80% of the country’s avocado crop. The new case demonstrates that the problem is expanding to new areas.

Dramatic growth in avocado production is predicted in Mexico state following the relaxation of import controls in the US, which until mid-2016 permitted only fruit from Michoacán to be traded.  Mexico is the largest exporter of avocados to the US, and also exports significant volumes to the EU. Mexico state is currently the country’s third-largest avocado producer after Michoacán and Jalisco, with plantations covering 8,162 hectares according to the USDA. This total is forecast to grow by 15.6% to 9,434 hectares by the end of the 2016/17 season, the biggest expansion predicted anywhere in Mexico.

Plantation coverage in Michoacán is forecast to grow by 9.4%, to 147,720 hectares. PROFEPA estimate that 6,000 to 8,000 hectares of mostly pine and oak forest are cleared in Michoacán each year to make way for avocado orchards, amid allegations of widespread illegalities. They have already closed a series of illegal plantations in the state this year.

Avocado production in Mexico has expanded rapidly on the back of growing global demand for the fruit. Avocado exports from Mexico increased from £48 million in 2003 to £1.2 billion in 2015, while trade data analysis shows that, between June 2015 and June 2016, Mexico exported a total of 148,955 tonnes of avocados, up 54% from the same period the previous year.

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