The Avocados of Wrath –

Credit: Original article can be found here

So wrote John Steinbeck when, perhaps for the first time, the immense devastation provoked by capitalist agribusiness, the subsequent expulsion of peasant families from the Midwest, and their arrival in California in the 1930s became visible.[1] Perhaps, if he were writing today, he would replace grapes with avocados. The business model for this popular tropical fruit is the epitome of agribusiness recrudescent, causing rampant deforestation and water diversion, the eradication of other modes of agriculture, and the expulsion of entire communities from the land.

Avocados are, after bananas and pineapples, the world’s third-largest fruit commodity. Their production is taking up an ever-growing area and continually expanding into new countries. What are the implications of this worldwide expansion? What forces are driving it? How does this model, working on both global and local scales, manage to keep prices high? How did the current boom, with avocados featured at major sporting events and celebrations of all kinds, come to pass? What are the social repercussions of this opaque business?

We begin the story on 12 February 2023 in Kansas City at the 57th Super Bowl, American football’s premier annual event. A month earlier, more than 2000 km away in Michoacán, Mexico, tens of thousands of tons of avocados were being packed for shipping. The United States imports 40% of global avocado production and the Super Bowl is when consumption peaks. “The guacamole eaten during the Super Bowl alone would fill 30 million football helmets,” says Armando López, executive director of the Mexican Association of Avocado Growers, Packers, and Exporters (APEAM), which paid nearly $7 million for a Super Bowl ad.[2]

Despite its limited coverage in US media, the dark side of avocado production was the unwelcome guest at this year’s event. A complaint against the Government of Mexico had recently been filed with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation under the USMCA, accusing the government of tolerating the ecocidal impacts of avocado production in Michoacán.[3]

Mexico can be seen as a proving ground for today’s avocado industry. Focusing on this country helps tell the story of how the avocado tree went from being a relic of evolutionary history to its current status as an upstart commodity characterized by violence and media-driven consumerism.

Booming world production

For a decade now, avocados have been the growth leaders among tropical fruit commodities
The goods exchanged on the commodities market, traditionally raw materials such as metals and fuels, and cereals.
.[4] Mexico, the world’s largest exporter, accounts for 40% of total production. According to OECD
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

OECD: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, created in 1960. It includes the major industrialized countries and has 34 members as of January 2016.
and FAO projections, this proportion could reach 63% in 2030. The United States absorbs 80% of Mexican avocado exports, but production is ramping up in many other countries.

In 2021, global production reached 8.8 million tons, one third of which was exported, for a value of $7.4 billion. By 2030, production is expected to reach 12 million tons. Within a decade, the average area under cultivation doubled in the world’s ten largest producer countries (see Figure 1). It quadrupled in Colombia, Haiti, Morocco, and the Dominican Republic, and quintupled in Zimbabwe. Production has taken off at a gallop in Malawi and Vietnam as well, with both countries now ranking among the top 20 avocado producers.

Countries considered: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Brazil, Haiti, Vietnam, Chile. Source: FAOSTAT [viewed 19 February 2023]
Produced by: Colectivo por la Autonomía/Eduardo Villalpando Ruiz

The top 10 countries account for 80% of total production. In some of these, such as Mexico, Peru, Chile, and Kenya (see Table 1), the crop is largely grown for export. Its main markets are the United States and Europe, which together make up 70% of global imports. While Mexico supplies its neighbour to the north all year long, the avocados going to Europe come from Peru, South Africa, and Kenya in the summer and from Chile, Mexico, Israel, and Spain in the winter.[5] The Netherlands, as the main port of entry for the European Union, has become the world’s third-leading exporter.

Other markets are rapidly opening up in Asia. Kenya, Ethiopia, and recently Tanzania have begun exporting to India and China,[6] while Chinese imports from Peru, Mexico, and Chile are also on the rise. In 2021, despite the pandemic, these imports surpassed 41,000 tons.[7] In addition, US avocado companies have begun cutting costs by sourcing from China, Yunnan province in particular.[8]

Top 10 avocado producers in 2021
Country Production(thousand tons) Proportion of world production Area(ha) Proportion of global planted area  Proportion of production exported Main markets
Mexico 2,443 28% 226,534 26% 50% USA (80%), Canada (8%), Japan (4%)
Colombia 980 11% 94,111 11% 10% Netherlands (52%), Spain (12%), UK (12%)
Peru 777 9% 51,800 6% 70% Netherlands (33%), USA (17%), Spain (16%)
Indonesia 669 8% 50,510 6% 0.07% Malaysia (84%), Spain (7%), Singapore (5%)
Dominican Republic 634 7% 37,468 4% 9% USA (64%), Netherlands (14%), UK (5%)
Kenya 417 5% 25,919 3% 23% Netherlands (25%), UAE (14%), France (14%)
Brazil 301 3% 18,106 2% 3% Argentina (30%), Spain (26%), Netherlands (17%)
Haiti 248 3% 42,723 * *
Vietnam 213 2% 16,538 2% 0.02% Singapore (63%), Malaysia (24%), Australia (8%)
Chile 169 2% 32,364 4% 58% Netherlands, (45%), Argentina (14%), UK (12%)

* Haitian avocados are not exported officially as being from Haiti, but rather mixed with Dominican avocados and exported mainly to the United States.[9]

Produced by authors based on FAOSTAT and UN Comtrade [viewed 3 March 2023]

The multimillion dollar “green gold” industry

According to some estimates, the global avocado market was worth $14 billion in 2021 and could reach $30 billion by 2030.[10] The biggest profits go to a handful of vertically integrated groups that are continuing to fan out to new countries, where they are setting up subsidiaries. They have also tightened their control over importers in the main global hubs.

> 200.000 ha (Mexico)
50.000 – 200.000 (Colombia, Indonesia, Peru)
20,000 – 50,000 (Chile, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, United States)
15,000 – 20,000 (Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Malawi, South Africa, Spain, Vietnam, United States)
◦ 10,000 -15,000 (China, Guatemala, Israel, Venezuela)
5,000 – 10,000 (Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, Morocco, Philippines)
2,000 – 5,000 (Bolivia, Costa Rica, Madagascar, New Zealand, Paraguay, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Turkey). Graphic design: Vaca Bonsai – Colectivo Audiovisual

For two examples, consider the California-based Mission Produce and Calavo Growers. In 2021, Mission Produce reported sales equivalent to 3% of global production,[11] and its sales have risen steadily over the last decade, reaching $1.045 billion in 2022.[12] The United States buys 80% of the company’s volume, with Europe, Japan, and China being other large customers, and it imports from Peru, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Kenya, Morocco, and Israel. It controls 8600 hectares in Peru, Guatemala, and Colombia.[13]

Calavo Growers, for its part, had total sales of $1.191 billion in 2022.[14]More than half its revenues came from packing and distribution of Mexican, US, Peruvian, and Colombian avocados.[15] The United States is far and away its biggest market, but in 2021 it began stepping up Mexican exports to Europe and Asia.[16]

South Africa-based Westfalia Fruits is another relevant company in the sector. It has 1200 hectares in South Africa and is expanding to other African and Latin American countries. It controls 1400 hectares in Mozambique and has taken over large exporters such as Aztecavo (Mexico), Camet (Peru), and Agricom (Chile).[17] Its main markets are Europe, the United States, South America, and Asia.[18] Some of its subsidiaries are incorporated in the tax haven
Tax haven
A territory characterized by the following five independent criteria:
(a) opacity (via bank secrecy or another mechanism such as trusts);
(b) low taxes, sometimes as low as zero for non-residents;
(c) easy regulations permitting the creation of front companies and no necessity for these companies to have a real activity on the territory;
(d) lack of cooperation with the inland revenue, customs and/or judicial departments of other countries;
(e) weak or non-existent financial regulation. Switzerland, the City of London and Luxembourg receive the majority of the capital placed in tax havens. Others exist, of course, such as the Cayman Islands, the Channel Islands, Hong Kong and other exotic locations.

of Delaware, and it has acquired importers in the UK and Germany.[19]

These companies have based their expansion on investment from heavyweight players in the world of finance. Mission Produce and Calavo Growers are listed on the New York Stock Exchange and are attracting investment from such concerns as BlackRock and The Vanguard Group.[20] We are also seeing private equity
The capital put into an enterprise by the shareholders. Not to be confused with ’hard capital’ or ’unsecured debt’.
, endowment, and pension funds
Pension Fund
Pension Funds

Pension funds: investment funds that manage capitalized retirement schemes, they are funded by the employees of one or several companies paying-into the scheme which, often, is also partially funded by the employers. The objective is to pay the pensions of the employees that take part in the scheme. They manage very big amounts of money that are usually invested on the stock markets or financial markets.
moving into avocados; Mission Produce, for example, joined with private equity
Private equity
Private equity or investment capital designates a specific form of institutional investment in private companies with the goal of financing their development, transformation and expansion. The most common forms of private equity are venture capital, which refers to investments in the creation and development of innovative start-ups, and Leveraged Buy-Outs.
firm Criterion Africa Partners to launch production of over 1000 hectares of avocados in Selokwe (South Africa).[21]

In 2020, Westfalia sold shares in Harvard Management Company, the company that manages Harvard University’s endowment fund.[22] Also involved is the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, which in 2017 acquired Australia’s second-largest avocado grower, Jasper Farms. PSP Investments, which manages Canada’s public service sector pensions, made a controversial acquisition of 16,500 hectares in Hawaii for production of avocado, among other crops, and faces grave accusations deriving from its efforts to monopolize the region’s water supply.[23]

Finally, it has to be emphasized that the expansion enjoyed by these companies has been aided by public funding. For example, South Africa’s publicly owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the World Bank
World Bank

The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have supported Westfalia’s incursions into Africa and Latin America under the guise of international development.[24]

From evolutionary relic to upstart commodity

Copy of patent 139, corresponding to the Hass avocado, by Rudolf Hass, 1935. 

The tree, native to Mexico, was called “ahuacatl,” or testicle tree—due to the shape of the fruit—in nahua, one of the country’s indigenous languages. This name endowed the avocado tree with an aura of magic. Avocados were planted on sacred ground (ancestral burial sites) and were, in former times, believed to be people who had come back to life as trees. The innumerable varieties of this species, Persea americana, have travelled through time with the communities of Mesoamerica since teocintle (the ancestor of maize), and later maize, began to develop in symbiosis with local communities around 9000–10,000 years ago; vestiges of semi-domesticated varieties dating from this era have been found in Coxcatlán Cave, in the Tehuacán Valley.[25] The word “avocado” probably derives from an incorrect pronunciation of the word “aguacate,” and continues to supplant its etymological forebear. The progress of the word is analogous to that of the hybrid accidentally developed by Rudolph Hass in 1932, which has become the world’s bestselling variety due to its resistance to cold, rough handling, transportation, and storage.[26]

Hass did not enjoy a good reputation during its early years as a commercial hybrid. Its rough skin earned it the moniker “alligator pear,” and the California growers’ association changed the name to “avocado” to make it sound “less Mexican,” for fear that the fruit would not sell otherwise.[27] Between the ancestral aguacate and the rampant devastation caused by the current production of this crop lies a history of agriculture’s decline into destructive agribusiness (with the emphasis on business)—the pillaging of lands and lives in search of profit
The positive gain yielded from a company’s activity. Net profit is profit after tax. Distributable profit is the part of the net profit which can be distributed to the shareholders.

A proving ground for profit and devastation

To take the full measure of the risks looming over the new areas being brought under the industrial avocado model, it is important to read Mexico as a proving ground of sorts. The country has become the world’s largest producer through a process bound up with the dynamics of agribusiness in California, where avocado production took its first steps in the early twentieth century. The US market grew rapidly, protected from Mexican imports by a 1914 ban predicated on an alleged threat of pests coming into the country.

Graphic design: Vaca Bonsai – Colectivo Audiovisual 

This was the genesis of Calavo Growers (1924) and Henry Avocado (1925). California began exporting to Europe and expanding the area under cultivation, reaching a peak of 30,000 hectares in the mid-1980s, when Chile began competing for the same markets.[29] It was then that consortia of California avocado producers founded West Pak and Mission Produce, and the latter of these soon began operations as an importer of Chilean avocados. In 1997, 60% of US avocado purchases came from Chile, but the business collapsed with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).[30] Lobbying by APEAM and the US companies then led to the lifting of the ban on Mexican imports. With liberalization under NAFTA, Mexican avocado exports multiplied by a factor of 13, and their commercial value by a factor of 40, in the first two decades of the twenty-first century.

The California corporations set up subsidiaries in Mexico and began buying directly from growers, going as far as to build their own packing plants in Michoacán.[31] One study found that by 2005, Mission Produce, Calavo Growers, West Pak, Del Monte, Fresh Directions, and Chiquita had cornered 80% of US avocado imports from Mexico.[32]

Today, the state of Michoacán monopolizes 75% of the nation’s production, followed by Jalisco with 10% and Mexico state with 5%.[33]In 2019, export-oriented agriculture was a high-profile player in the industry, with public policies being structured around its needs. And if the business had become so profitable, it was because of the strategies of domination that had been deployed by avocado agribusiness and the impacts of these strategies on peasant and community ways of life.[34]The Mexican avocado boom is now reliant on the felling of whole forests. In many cases these are burned down or clear-cut to make way for avocado groves, using up the water supply of localities or even whole regions. The societal costs are enormous.

Forest fires in Michoacán, Mexico, as a key way to grab land for avocado plantations. Photo credits: Lauro Rodríguez / El Suspicaz

In 2021, Mexico produced some 2.5 million tons of avocados; within the preceding decade, nearly 100,000 hectares had been directly or indirectly deforested for the purpose.[35] In Michoacán alone, between 2000 and 2020, the area under avocados more than doubled, from 78,530.25 to 169,939.45 ha.[36] And reforestation cannot easily repair the damage caused by forest destruction: the ecological relationships on which biodiversity depends take a long time to evolve, and the recovery period is even longer after removal of vegetation, spraying of agrotoxins, and drying of the soil.

In Jalisco, the last decade has seen a tripling of the area under avocado, agave, and berries, competing not only with peasants and the forests stewarded by original peoples, but also with cattle ranchers.[37] “Last year alone,” says Adalberto Velasco Antillón, president of the Jalisco ranchers’ association, “10,000 cattlemen (dairy and beef) went out of business.”[38]

According to Dr. Ruth Ornelas, who studies the avocado phenomenon in Mexico, the business’s expansion has come in spite of its relative cost-inefficiency. “This is apparent in the price of the product. Extortion garners 1.4% of total revenues,… or 4 to 6 pesos per kilogram of avocados.” It is a tax of sorts, but one that is collected by the groups that control the business, not by the government.[39] According to Francisco Mayorga, minister of agriculture under Vicente Fox and Enrique Calderón, “they collect not only from the farmer but from the packer, the loggers, the logging trucks and the road builders. And they decide, depending on the payments, who gets to ship to Manzanillo, Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán and Jalisco. That’s because they have a monopoly on what is shipped to the world’s largest buyer, the United States.”[40]

By collecting this toll at every link in the chain, they control the whole process, from grower to warehouse to packer to shipper, including refrigeration and the various modes of distribution. And not only do they collect at every step, but they also keep prices high by synchronizing supply from warehouse to consumer.

Industrial avocado plantation near Uruapan, Michoacán. Photo credits: Prometeo Lucero 

Dr. Ornelas says, “They may try to persuade people, but where that doesn’t work, bribes and bullets do the trick. Organized crime functions like a police force in that it plays a certain role in protecting the players within the industry. It is the regulatory authority. It is the tax collector, the customs authority, and the just-in-time supplier. Sadly, the cartels have become a source of employment, hiring halcones [taxi drivers or shoeshine boys working as spies], chemists, and contract killers as required. It seems that they even have economists advising them on how to make the rules.” Mayorga adds: “When these groups are intermingled with governmental structures, there is a symbiosis among growers, criminals, vendors, and input suppliers. If somebody tries to opt out of the system, he may lose his phytosanitary certification and hence his ability to export.” Mayorga stresses that the criminals administer the market and impose a degree of order on it; they oversee the process at the domestic and international levels, “regulating the flow of product so that there is never a glut and prices stay high.” Investment and extortion are also conducive to money laundering. It is very hard to monitor who is investing in the product, how it is produced, and where it is going. Yet the government trumpets avocados as an agri-food success.

Official data indicate that there are 27,712 farms under 10 hectares in Michoacán, involving 310,000 people and also employing 78,000 temporary workers.[41] These small farms have become enmeshed in avocado capitalism and the pressures it places on forests and water; more importantly, however, the climate of violence keeps the growers in line. In the absence of public policy and governmental controls, and with organized crime having a tight grip on supply chains and world prices, violence certainly plays a role in governance of the industry. But these groups are not the ones who run the show, for they themselves are vertically integrated into multidimensional relationships of violence. It is the investors and large suppliers, leveraged by the endowment, pension, and private equity funds, who keep avocado production expanding around the world.[42]

The role of greenhouses

Land grabbing by the avocado industry has laid the groundwork for invasion by greenhouse production. Greenhouses allow for total control over both labour, which has been profoundly casualized, and the land base.

The common threads running through greenhouses are water and plastic. Israeli companies such as Netafim and Rivulis, which supply drip irrigation systems to the avocado industry, have found new customers among growers of berries and other products under greenhouses.[43] It may not be a coincidence that Netafim was acquired by the powerful Mexican group Orbia, a regional leader in plastics. These technologies are presented as sustainable by virtue of the reduced water consumption that they make possible.[44] But this is questionable if one considers the quantity of plastic required as well as the ecological and social footprint of the digitalization associated with this model.[45]

A headlong rush down multiple paths

The Mexican example alerts us to one of the main problems associated with avocado growing, and that is water use. In Mexico, each hectare consumes 100,000 litres per month, on top of the destruction of the biodiverse forests that help preserve the water cycle.[46] A whole other study ought to be devoted to the indiscriminate use of agrotoxins and the resulting groundwater contamination. In Michoacán alone, the avocado crop receives 450,000 litres of insecticides, 900,000 tons of fungicides, and 30,000 tons of fertilizers annually.[47]

Wherever they are grown, avocados consume an astonishing volume of water. An estimated 25 million m³, or the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic swimming pools, are estimated to be used by Peru, South Africa, Chile, Israel, and Spain to produce the avocados imported into the UK.[48]

California has maintained its 90% share
A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings.
of the US avocado market, but this situation is not predicted to endure beyond 2050.[49] California’s dire water crisis has been driven to a significant extent by the industrial production of avocados and other fruits, with climate change exacerbating the problem.[50]

Plastic container pools to store water that industrial avocado plantations need in enormous quantities. Photo credits: Prometeo Lucero 

In the Chilean province of Petorca, which accounts for 60% of Chile’s avocado exports, the production of one kilogram of avocados requires 1280 litres of water. Water privatization by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1981 coincided with the rise of the country’s export industry and abetted the development of large plantations, which have drained the rivers and driven out peasant farming.[51] This appears to be one of the reasons why Chile is no longer self-sufficient in this commodity. “We import more than we export now,” said the director of Mission Produce, Steve Barnard, two years ago, stating that avocados were being brought in not only from Peru but also from California.[52]

Even as it continues to squeeze the last drops of water out of depleted aquifers in Mexico, California, and Chile, the industry is migrating into other sacrifice zones.[53] To water the arid Olmos Valley in Peru, where California’s avocado companies operate, the Peruvian government developed one of the country’s most corrupt and conflict-ridden megaprojects: a 20-km tunnel through the Andes range, built in 2014, to deliver water diverted from the Huancabamba River to Olmos. The project was sold as an “opportunity to acquire farmland with water rights in Peru.”[54]

Colombia was the next stop on the avocado train, with the crop spreading out across Antioquia and the coffee-growing region, and with even large mining interests joining forces with agribusiness.[55] “Peru is destined to replace much of its avocado land with citrus fruit, which is less water-intensive,” said Pedro Aguilar, manager of Westfalia Fruit Colombia, in 2020, although “water is becoming an absolutely marvelous investment draw, since it is cost-free in Colombia.”[56]

Sowing the seeds of resistance

If Mexico has been an experiment in devastation, it has also been an experiment in resistance, as witness the inspiring saga of the Purépecha community of Cherán, Michoacán. In 2012, the community played host to a preliminary hearing of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal that condemned land grabbing, deforestation, land conversion, agrotoxin spraying, water depletion, fires, and the widespread violence wielded against the population. It laid the blame for these plagues squarely on timber theft, the avocado industry, berry greenhouses, and agave production.

One of the many ’fogones’ or ’bonfires’ that served as a guard post and community revival in the struggle of San Francisco Cherán, in Michoacán, Mexico, against loggers and drug traffickers linked to avocado production. Photo credits: Consuelo Pagaza

One year earlier, the population had decided to take matters in hand. They were fed
Federal Reserve

Officially, Federal Reserve System, is the United States’ central bank created in 1913 by the ’Federal Reserve Act’, also called the ’Owen-Glass Act’, after a series of banking crises, particularly the ’Bank Panic’ of 1907.

FED – decentralized central bank :
up with this litany of injustices and with the violence being inflicted on them by the paramilitary forces of organized crime. Led by the women, the community took up the arduous task of establishing checkpoints marked out by bonfires (which were also used for cooking) throughout the area. Any institution or group that questioned their collective authority was immediately confronted. The newly created community police force is answerable to the general assembly, which in turn reports to the neighbourhood assemblies. A few years ago, the community gated itself to outsiders while working on restoring the forest and establishing its own horizontal form of government with respect for women, men, children, and elders.

The community then took another step forward, opting for municipal and community autonomy. This was not a straightforward process, but it did finally lead to approval by the National Electoral Institute for elections to take place under customary law and outside the party system. This example spread to other communities such as Angahuan that are also grappling with agribusiness, corruption, and organized crime.[57]

Clearly, this struggle for tradition-rooted self-determination is just beginning. The cartels, after all, are pursuing their efforts to subdue whole regions. Meanwhile, for their own defence, the people are continuing to follow these role models and declaring self-government.

An unsustainable model

“The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all. Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground. The people came for miles to take the fruit, but … men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit. A million people hungry, needing the fruit—and kerosene sprayed over the golden mountains.”[58]

Per capita consumption of avocados has kept on growing in the importing countries, driven by intense marketing campaigns promoting the nutritional benefits of this food. In the United States alone, consumption has tripled in 20 years.[59] While avocados are sold as a superfood, a convenient veil remains thrown over what is actually happening at the local level, where the farmers are not the ones benefiting. While this global trend continues, various false solutions are proposed, such as water-saving innovations or so-called “zero deforestation” initiatives.

In this exploitative model, small- and medium-sized growers are forced to take on all the risk while also bearing the burden of the environmental externalities. The big companies and their investors are largely shielded from the public health and environmental impacts.

As we have said, the growers are not the ones who control the process; not even organized crime has that power. They are both just cogs in the industrial agri-food system, assisting the destruction it wreaks in order to eke out a share of the colossal dividends it offers. To truly understand the workings of the system, one has to study the supply chain as a whole.

Given these realities, it is urgent for us to step up our efforts to denounce agribusiness and its corrupting, devastating model. The people must organize to find ways out of this nightmare.

* Mexico-based Colectivo por la Autonomía works on issues related to territorial defence and peasant affairs, through coordination with other Mexican and Latin American social movement organizations, as well as legal defence and research on the environmental and social impacts experienced by indigenous and rural territories and communities.

[1] John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath Penguin Classics, 1939, 2006.

[2] Guillermina Ayala, “López: “Un Súper Bowl con guacamole,” Milenio, 11 February 2023,

[3] The USMCA is the trade agreement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada. See also Isabella González, “Una denuncia lleva a la producción mexicana de aguacate ante la comisión ambiental del T-MEC por ecocidio,” El País, 8 February 2023,

[4] In what follows, the sources for production volumes, areas under cultivation, and sales are the FAOSTAT and UN Comtrade databases [viewed 25 January 2023]. The source for 2030 projections is OECD/FAO, OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021–2030, 2021,

[5] Ruben Sommaruga and Honor May Eldridge, “Avocado Production: Water Footprint and Socio-economic Implications,” EuroChoices 20(2), 13 December 2020,

[6] See George Munene, “Chinese traders plan on increasing Kenyan avocado imports,” Farmbiz Africa, 1 August 2022,; Tanzania Invest, “Tanzania sign 15 strategic agreements with China, including avocado exports,” 5 November 2022,

[7] USDA, ’China: 2022 Fresh Avocado Report, 14 November 2022,

[8] Global AgInvesting, “US-based Mission Produce is developing its first domestic avocado farm in China,” 8 June 2018,

[9] Wageningen University & Research, “Improved mango and avocado chain helps small farmers in Haiti,” 2022,

[10] See Grand View Research, “Avocado market size, share & trends analysis report by form (fresh, processed), by distribution channel (B2B, B2C), by region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Central & South America, MEA), and segment forecasts, 2022–2030,” 2022,; Straits Research, “Fresh avocado market,” 2022,

[11] Mission Produce, “Mission Produce announces fiscal 2021 fourth quarter financial results,” 22 December 2021,

[12] Sources: Capital IQ and United States Securities and Exchange Commission, “Mission Produce: Form 10-K,” 22 December 2022,

[13] The company reports that it has had avocado plantations since 2011 on three Peruvian farms covering 3900 ha, in addition to producing blueberries on 400 hectares (including greenhouses) as part of a joint venture called Moruga. See Mission Produce, “Investor relations,” December 2022,; United States Securities and Exchange Commission, “Mission Produce: Form 10-K,” 22 December 2022,, and

[14] Sources:; Calavo Growers, “Calavo Growers, Inc. announces fourth quarter and fiscal 2021 financial results,” 20 December 2021,

[15] Its main subsidiaries in Mexico are Calavo de México and Avocados de Jalisco; see Calavo Growers, Calavo Growers, Inc. Investor Presentation, 12 December 2022,; United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Calavo Growers, Inc. form 10-K, December 2022,

[16] Among its main US clients are Kroger (15% of 2022 total sales), Trader Joe’s (11%), and Wal-Mart (10%) Source: Capital IQ. See also “Calavo quiere exportar aguacate mexicano a Europa y Asia,” El Financiero, 8 January 2021,

[17] See IDC, “Westfalia grows an empire,” 2018,; IFC, Creating Markets in Mozambique, June 2021,; “Agricom y Westfalia Fruit concretan asociación en Latinoamérica,”, 9 January 2018,

[18] Marta del Moral Arroyo, “Prevemos crecer este año un 20% en nuestras exportaciones de palta a Asia y Estados Unidos,” Fresh Plaza,27 May 2022,

[19] See

[20] For example, in the case of Calavo Growers, BlackRock controls 16%, Vanguard Group 8%, and five other investment 20%; see Capital IQ, “Nuance Investments increases position in Calavo Growers (CVGW),” Nasdaq, 8 February 2023,; “Vanguard Group increases position in Calavo Growers (CVGW),” Nasdaq, 9 February 2023,

[21] Liam O’Callaghan, “Mission announces South African expansion,” Eurofruit, 8 February 2023, Criterion Africa Partners invests with funds from the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO) (Source: Preqin).

[22] Harvard Management Company subsequently spun out its holdings in Westfalia to the private equity fund Solum Partners; see Lynda Kiernan, “HMC investment in Westfalia Fruit International to drive global expansion for avocados,” Global AgInvesting, 17 January 2020,; Michael McDonald, “Harvard spins off natural resources team, to remain partner,” Bloomberg, 8 October 2020,

[23] See “Ontario Teachers’ acquires Australian avocado grower Jasper Farms,” OTPP, 19 December 2017,; “Canadian pension fund invests in ex-plantation privatizing Hawaii’s water,” The Breach, 23 February 2022,

[24] See Westfalia is a subsidiary of the South African logging company Hans Merensky Holdings (HMH), whose main shareholders are the Hans Merensky Foundation (40%), IDC (30%), and CFI (20%) (see

[25] Amanda Landon, “Domestication and significance of Persea americana, the avocado, in Mesoamerica,” Nebraska Anthropologist, 47 (2009),

[26] Ibid., 70.

[27] Jeff Miller, Avocado: A Global History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020),

[28] Maria Popova, “A ghost of evolution: The curious case of the avocado, which should be extinct but still exists,” The Marginalian,, citing Connie Barlow, The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners, and Other Ecological Anachronisms,

[29] Patricia Lazicki, Daniel Geisseler, and Willliam R. Horwath, “Avocado production in California,” UC Davis, 2016,

[30] Flavia Echánove Huacuja, “Abriendo fronteras: el auge exportador del aguacate mexicano a United States,” Anales de Geografía de la Universidad Complutense, 2008, Vol. 28, N° 1,

[31] Calavo Growers, Calavo Growers, Inc. Investor Presentation, 12 December 2022,

[32] Flavia Echánove Huacuja, op cit., the evolution of these companies in the sector was different. Chiquita withdrew from the avocado industry in 2012, while for Del Monte, this fruit accounts for a steadily declining share of its sales, reaching 8% ($320 million) in 2021 (see; United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. Form 10-K, 2022; Del Monte Quality, A Brighter World Tomorrow, )

[33] Source: SIAP ( [viewed 27 November 2022].

[34] María Adelina Toribio Morales, César Adrián Ramírez Miranda, and Miriam Aidé Núñez Vera, “Expansión del agronegocio aguacatero sobre los territorios campesinos en Michoacán, México,” Eutopía, Revista de Desarrollo Económico Territorial, no. 16, December 2019, pp. 51–72,

[35] Enrique Espinosa Gasca states: “The Ministry of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Climate Change (Semadet) in Michoacán acknowledged in March 2019 that in the first twenty years of the millennium, Michoacán has lost a million hectares of its forests, some due to clandestine logging and some due to forest fires set for purposes of land conversion”; “Berries, frutos rojos, puntos rojos,” in Colectivo por la Autonomía and GRAIN, eds, Invernaderos: Controvertido modelo de agroexportación (Ceccam, 2021).

[36] Gobierno de México, SIACON (2020),; idem, Servicio de Información Agroalimentaria y Pesquera (SIAP),

[37] “Se triplica cosecha de agave, berries y aguacate en Jalisco,” El Informador, 23 December 2021,

[38] María Ramírez Blanco, “Agave, berries y aguacate encarece precio de la tierra en Jalisco, roba terreno al maíz y al ganado,” UDG TV, 31 January 2023,

[39] Agustín del Castillo, Territorio Reportaje, part 8, “Negocio, ecocidio y crimen,” Canal 44tv, Universidad de Guadalajara, October 2022,

[40] Agustín del Castillo, Territorio Reportaje, part 7, “La huella criminal en el fruto más valioso del mundo: la palta, el avocado, el aguacate,” Canal 44tv, Universidad de Guadalajara, September 2022,

[41] Gobierno de México, Secretaría de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural, “Productores de pequeña escala, los principales exportadores de aguacate a Estados Unidos: Agricultura,” 29 January 2020,

[42] Our results and arguments coincide with those found in Alexander Curry, “Violencia y capitalismo aguacatero en Michoacán,” in Jayson Maurice Porter and Alexander Aviña, eds, Land, Markets and Power in Rural Mexico, Noria Research. Curry is skeptical of analyses in whichviolence can be understood in terms of its results, such as the coercive control of a market square or highway. “Such analyses forget that violence is part of a social process, with its own temporal framework,” he writes. It is therefore necessary to frame the process within a broader field of relations of inequality of all kinds, in which the paradox is that legal and illegal actors intermingle at the local, national, and international levels, but in spheres that rarely intersect. The avocado industry cannot be explained by the cartels but by the tangled web of international capitalism.

[43] See and

[44] Jennifer Kite-Powell, ’Using Drip Irrigation To Make New Sustainable Growing Regions For Avocados’, Forbes, 29 March 2022: .

[45] See Pat Mooney, La Insostenible Agricultura 4.0: Digitalización y Poder Corporativo en la Cadena Alimentaria, ETC Group, 2019, See also Colectivo por la Autonomía and GRAIN, eds, Invernaderos: controvertido modelo de agroexportación.

[46] Colectivo por la Autonomía, Evangelina Robles, José Godoy, and Eduardo Villalpando, “Nocividad del metabolismo agroindustrial en el Occidente de México,” in Eduardo Enrique Aguilar, ed., Agroecología y Organización Social: Estudios Críticos sobre Prácticas y Saberes(Monterrey: Universidad de Monterrey, Editorial Ítaca, 2022),

[47] Metapolítica, “La guerra por el aguacate: deforestación y contaminación imparables,” BiodiversidadLA, 24 June 2019,

[48] Chloe Sutcliffe and Tim Hess, “The global avocado crisis and resilience in the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetable supply system,” Global Food Security, 19 June 2017,

[49] Nathanael Johnson, “Are avocados toast? California farmers bet on what we’ll be eating in 2050,” The Guardian, 30 May 2016,

[50] GRAIN, “The well is running dry on irrigated agriculture,” 20 February 2023,

[51] Danwatch, “Paltas y agua robada,” 2017,

[52] Fresh Fruit Portal, “Steve Barnard, founder and CEO of Mission Produce: We now import more to Chile than we export,” 23 August 2021,

[53] Sacrifice zones are “places with high levels of environmental contamination and degradation, where profits have been given priority over people, causing human rights abuses or violations”: Elizabeth Bravo, “Zonas de sacrificio y violación de derechos,” Naturaleza con Derechos, Boletín 26, 1 September 2021,

[54] See Catalina Wallace, “La obra de ingeniería que cambió el desierto peruano,” Visión, March 2022,; “Proyecto de irrigación Olmos,” Landmatrix, 2012, The costly project was part of the Odebrecht corruption case fought in the context of the “Lava Jato” operation: Jacqueline Fowks, “El ‘caso Odebrecht’ acorrala a cuatro expresidentes peruanos,” El País, 17 April 2019,

[55] Liga contra el Silencio, “Los aguacates de AngloGold dividen a Cajamarca,” 30 October 2020,

[56] “Colombia: Los aguacates de AngloGold dividen a Cajamarca,” La Cola de Rata,16 October 2020,

[57] See Las luchas de Cherán desde la memoria de los jóvenes (Cherán Ireteri Juramukua, Cherán K’eri, 2021); Daniela Tico Straffon and Edgars Martínez Navarrete, Las raíces del despojo, U-Tópicas,; Mark Stevenson, “Mexican town protects forest from avocado growers and drug cartels,” Los Angeles Times,; Monica Pellicia, “Indigenous agroforestry dying of thirst amid a sea of avocados in Mexico,”

[58] The Grapes of Wrath, op. cit.

[59] USDA, “Imports play dominant role as U.S. demand for avocados climbs,” 2 May 2022,