- Avocado exports to the US increase in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, including 1,400 tons from Colombia
- Coffee farmers in the Quindio department claim avocado production is affecting the land used for coffee
- Others have played down fears, pointing at instead at unprecedented levels of rainfall since 2022
THE WEST’S appetite for avocados is insatiable. Monthly shipments of avocados to the US come in at some 320 million pounds, while in Europe, they are expected to become the second-most traded major tropical fruit by 2030, after bananas.
On few occasions is the demand for avocados more evident than during the National Football League’s final playoff game, the Super Bowl.
Every year, the event attracts millions of viewers from around the world. And, since the 1990s, guacamole with tortilla chips has been its unofficial snack. According to official figures from the California Avocado Commission, almost 140 million pounds of avocados are eaten during the Super Bowl alone.
This trend is supported by figures from Colombia’s agriculture ministry, which reports that avocado demand peaks in the weeks leading up to the game. This year, an estimated 1,400 tons of Colombian avocados were sent to the US specifically for consumption during the Super Bowl.
Naturally, avocado growers welcome the spike in demand. This is especially true this year, as a market oversupply and fears of a looming recession have seen prices plummet in recent months.
However, some believe that the attempts to keep up with rising global avocado consumption and cash in on what has been dubbed “green gold” could be inadvertently affecting coffee production.
Last week, amid widespread media attention towards the Super Bowl final between the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, José Hernandez, a Colombian coffee producer, said avocados were ruining his land.
He accused the rise of an avocado monoculture in Pijao, a coffee-growing region in the department of Quindio, of having caused flooding and wiping out 4,000 coffee trees.
“I lost 20 years of work with those waters that fell on me,” said Hernandez, who believes avocado multinationals, who use high amounts of water and divert natural streams to feed crops, were causing the destruction.
Reports of avocado production’s environmental impact have been extensive.
On average, approximately 280 litres of applied water are required to produce a kilogram of avocados. A small pack of two avocados, meanwhile, has an estimated carbon footprint of 846.36g, almost twice the size of one kilo of bananas (480g). This includes the footprint of fertilisers and transport.
Since 2014, many coffee producers have switched to growing avocados amid volatile coffee prices. In Pijao, an estimated 789 hectares is dedicated to growing avocado trees – a 245% rise compared to 2016, according to the local authorities.
However, not everyone agrees that using the land to grow avocados instead of coffee is having the devastating impact that some claim.
Klaus Klein is the CEO of Cafe Export Colombia, a coffee consultancy with headquarters in Bogotá. He says the demonisation of the avocado industry is misguided and that he is yet to witness the purported ill effects of avocado production on coffee.
“For me it is inexplicable why the avocado is made such an enemy,” he says. “Increased water consumption is an urban legend, especially in recent years when it has been raining excessively.”
Indeed, heavy rains associated with the La Niña weather phenomenon have wreaked havoc on Colombia over the last few months, leading the government to declare a national emergency. President Gustavo Petro said that rainfall in 2022 was at its highest level in 40 years, with floods destroying crops and causing food prices to rise.
Klaus also suggests that initial fears around coffee growing being abandoned in favour of an avocado cash crop have subsided. “I have seen the opposite,” he says. “Namely that farmers no longer grow avocados and are cutting down the trees to grow coffee.”