Colombia Avocados: The Hidden Costs


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    Colombia is well-known for growing coffee; many families have been doing so in the same place for generations. In fact, coffee has been the economic lifeblood of the country for decades, until recently. Riobardo Zapata is a member of one such family, who farmed coffee until the industry seemed to dissolve around him. Here’s is why Zapata’s family went from farming coffee to growing Colombia avocados.

    What Changed Coffee to Colombia Avocados?

    There are a number of factors that contributed to coffee-growers like Riobardo Zapara switching from coffee to Colomba avocados. Climate change is a big part; starting almost 10 years ago, the more extreme weather patterns caused heavy rains and long droughts that ravaged coffee crops. Another factor affecting coffee growers is an unstable market price. 

    7 years ago, however, Colombia experienced an “avocado boom.” The ever-increasing global demand for avocados coupled with the rising price for the fruit led many coffee farmers to switch crops to grow Colombia avocados. Zapata watched the Andean mountains around his small town turn into avocado farms as far as his eye can see. 

    aerial photography of curved road heading towards bridge near body of water

    The Rapid Growth of Colombia Avocados

    In 2014, Colombia exported just over 1400 tons of Hass avocados grown in the country. By 2020, avo exports reached almost 550,000 tons. Colombia sends the superfruit to the United States, Europe, and Asia. Colombia is now the third-largest avo exporter in the world.

    This rapid growth in the industry has led to improved conditions for farmworkers. Many enjoy fair wages and benefits like health insurance, social services, and even a pension. 

    The Repercussions Of Colombia Avocados

    While growing a high-demand, lucrative fruit is great for farmers, it might not be so perfect for the biodiversity of the region. Scientists warn that the over-cultivation of Colombia avocados poses an environmental threat to the area. Colombia is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, under more and more threat as climate change worsens. 

    Unfortunately, avocados require a lot of resources to grow. Depending on the region, avos require as much as four times as much water as oranges and 10 times as much water as tomatoes. 

    Some companies, especially foreign interests from Chile and Peru, have climbed higher and higher into the biologically essential Andes mountains to grow avocados, threatening the local ecosystems. The cooler climate at higher elevations allows the companies to delay harvest and rank in higher profits when the glocal avo supply is lower. 

    The spread of avocado farms has also led to deforestation and, in some areas, water contamination. 

    smokey mountain with coconut palm trees, colombia avocados

    Avocado Expansion

    All signs point to the Colombia avocado industry continuing to grow. While the lucrative crop has had positive impacts on the growers and workers, the same can’t be said for the other coffee farmers and the regions in general. Time will only tell how harshly Colombia’s rural areas will feel the effects of the avocado.