The trail an avocado takes from farm to toast is increasingly punctuated by chain-link fencing and AK-47s.
At least, that’s become the case in Mexico, where the meteoric rise of the avocado industry has attracted unwanted attention and an increase in violence toward growers and their workers. The threats are perpetrated by cartels and vigilantes, looking for ways to capitalize off the money the trade has infused into western Mexico.
A lot of those avocados wind up crossing the border into the US, satiating a fast-growing appetite Americans have for them. Sometimes referred to as “green gold,” avocados have been rising in popularity in the US for years. Consumption of the fruit—yes, it’s not a vegetable—has increased significantly, from 2.2 to 7.1 pounds per capita between 2000 and 2016, according to the USDA data.
The regional problem with violence was catapulted onto the international stage earlier this year, when a spate of violence wound up threatening the safety of food inspectors from the US Department of Agriculture.
In mid-August a team of inspectors fell into danger in Ziracuaretiro, a town in the state of Michoacan. Local authorities told the media that an armed gang stopped and robbed a truck in which inspectors were traveling. There are close to 60 inspectors in that region, charged with checking conditions on the farms. The threat to them resulted in US officials saying they would suspend its avocado certification program if precautions weren’t implemented.
Now some Mexican avocado growers are hiring private security firms. A spokesman for Villita Avocados, a subsidiary of Mexican avocado exporter AgroExport Avocados, said this week that the company hired a firm to assess operational risk.
“There have been times when there have been upticks in the violence, and then we aren’t able to operate at 100% capacity,” said spokesman Aaron Acosta in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, many growers have erected chain-link fencing and hired guards armed with AK-47s to protect workers from violent thieves and cartel extortionists.
And while the US is the tenth largest producer of avocados in the world (they are mostly grown in Florida and California), Mexico is the dominant grower, supplying some 43% of world demand. In 2017, the US produced about 133,000 metric tons, a number that is dwarfed by the more than 2 million metric tons grown across the border.