Good Avocado, Bad Avocado

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Production Ecology
Avocado Hero

The avocado has gone through many phases, from world-saving fruit to mass-produced food to a terrible evil that should never be bought again. But is it really so? Let’s take a look at the facts.

"The fruit that threatens the world,” "Avocadogate", "Forests destroyed due to global hunger for avocados". A quick Internet search is enough to thoroughly spoil one’s appetite for an avocado.

Digging deeper will quickly lead to claims regarding the amount of water required for avocado production: an avocado tree supposedly needs 500 to 1500 litres of water for a kilo of fruit. But is that an issue? It depends where!

Niels Jungbluth from ESU-services thinks that this water usage claim is based on a study of avocado cultivation in Mexico. With the help of his team, Jungbluth investigated the environmental footprint of foods, textiles and other products. He is also the one who provided the calculations for the CO2 footprint of gebana products.

Water Is Only One of Many Indicators

Globally, roughly a third of avocado production takes place in Mexico, but the country mainly exports to the United States. Europeans hardly ever set eyes on a Mexican avocado. For this reason, and because avocado cultivation is different in every country, Jungbluth finds it questionable to rely on this number.

Furthermore, water is only a single environmental indicator, according to Jungbluth. "Water scarcity can be a problem locally, but not always," he explains. "Other aspects like climate change are a bigger and, importantly, a global problem. For a comprehensive environmental footprint, we need to consider all relevant indicators."

Avocados Transported by Boat Are Not a Noteworthy Issue

These relevant indicators notably include the type of agriculture – organic versus conventional – and transport. "When avocados from South America come by boat, that’s not a noteworthy problem. If they are transported by plane, that’s bad. No matter where they come from," says Jungbluth.

Ultimately, there’s no reason for air transport. Avocados are climacteric fruits, which means that they continue to ripen after being harvested. In turn, this means they can be harvested when they are still hard as rocks, after which there is enough time to ship them by boat.

The CO2 footprint of an avocado is comparable to that of European apricots, grapes or strawberries – less than apples and oranges, but on the same level as asparagus and better than all animal products.

Growing demand leads to intensive cultivation in nonsensical places

The consequence of this growth: ever more producers practising intensive cultivation, partly in nonsensical places, to make avocados as cheap as possible, as very impressively reported in 2016 by Zeit journalist Elisabeth Raether in her piece "The myth of the good avocado"(only available in German).

This all goes hand in hand with the way we consume food: instead of eating the fruit when it’s in season, it seems obvious to us that avocados are available 365 days a year. Yet we don’t continuously eat other fruits, such as strawberries.

Researching avocados and their water footprint will uncover comparisons with other foods requiring less (tomatoes, wheat) or more (beef, coffee) water to grow. The unit of measurement is the number of litres of water per kilo of food.

Comparing Complete Meals

In order to make a fair comparison of fruits or vegetables, we can’t strictly compare their water footprint per kilo of food. A tomato and an avocado have very different nutritional values and characteristics. An avocado can also be used as a replacement for eggs, butter or other animal fats. "I recommend comparing complete meals," Jungbluth suggests.

Our avocados come from the central south of Kenya. We are working here for the first time in 2023 with family farmers who do not irrigate their trees artificially, but rely solely on rain. Only in the cultivation of new trees do some use additional water.

The first avocados in Kenya ripen as early as March. The main season then runs until June. We deliver the fruits at the end of March, May and June.

Since avocados are, as mentioned, a climacteric fruit, they will ripen in your home. All you’ll need is some patience.

You can pre-order our avocados from Kenya in our online shop.

Note on avocados season 2024

In 2024, we are flying in our avocados from Kenya as an exception. The reason for this is that most shipping companies stopped transporting goods via the shipping route from Kenya through the Suez Canal to Europe in the spring. They are afraid of the Yemeni Houthi militia, which attacks merchant ships in the Red Sea.

The only alternative route leads around the entire African continent and takes over 40 days. That is too long for the sensitive avocados. We are therefore switching to air transportation at short notice. At least for this season.

From an ecological point of view, air transportation is not a good solution. But spoiled avocados would also be bad for the environment. For us, the 430 family farmers in Kenya cannot be let down. After all, we want to build a long-term partnership with them.

Sources used for this article:

Wikipedia: List of countries by avocado production (accessed on 27.02.2020)

Wikipedia: Virtuelles Wasser (accessed on 27.02.2020)

UNESCO-IHE: Virtual water trade (accessed on 27.02.2020)

The Packer: U.S. avocado import volume up by 15% in 2018 (accessed on 27.02.2020)

Die Zeit: Das Märchen von der guten Avocado (first published on 13.10.2016, accessed on 27.02.2020)

Rolling Stone: Warum die Öko-Kritik an der Avocado ins Leere läuft (first published ib 30.05.2019, accessed on 19.03.2020)

Interview with Niels Jungbluth, founder and CEOof ESU-services

For rough comparison: CO2-Rechner von Klimatarier

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