New report reveals avocados are getting smashed by climate change

14.05.2024 84 views

A new report published by the charity Christian Aid has revealed that avocados are under threat from the climate crisis sparking calls for faster emission cuts and more support for farmers.

The superfood favourite is known for its impact on the environment due to its need for lots of water.  But this need for water is what makes it especially vulnerable to climate change in a hotter, drier, more drought-prone world.

Some of our best avocado growing regions are shrinking – and many people around the world rely on the high fibre, vitamin-rich fruit for essential nutrition.

The new report, Getting Smashed: The climate danger facing avocados, highlights that globally, areas deemed highly suitable for growing avocados are expected to decline by between 14% and 41% by 2050, depending on how quickly global emissions are reduced.  The worse the climate scenario, the more rapidly prime avocado growing regions will shrink.   

It also shows that Mexico, the world’s biggest producer, could see its potential growing area reduced by 31% by 2050 even if global average temperature rise was limited to under 2C, and as much as 43% if global average temperature rises towards 5C.

The report coincides with a new Savanta poll which shows the British public want the UK Government to support farmers in developing countries that are providing food for UK dining tables. Asked if the Government should do more to reduce the impact of the climate crisis on the food supply chain to the UK, such as supporting farmers in developing countries shift to more sustainable and resilient methods of production, 63% of Brits agreed, whilst only 9% disagreed.

Avocados are popular around the globe, with their combination of high fibre and healthy fats, they are rightly seen as a superfood.  But without action from Governments to cut emissions they face an uncertain future.

Christian Aid is calling on governments to commit to urgent emissions reductions and accelerate the energy transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean, renewable energy.

The development charity also wants to see more financial support provided to vulnerable agricultural communities that rely on avocado growing for their livelihoods so they can adapt to the changing climate – a change that has been driven primarily by polluting nations in the global north.

(For more details about the climate impacts on specific avocado growing countries, see Notes to editors below.)

Mariana Paoli, Global Advocacy Lead at Christian Aid:  

“It's no surprise that avocados are popular throughout the world, from Brixton to Burundi.  Avocados might be a superfood but their kryptonite is climate change. They are thirsty plants that are ill-suited to a hotter, drought-prone planet which is where we’re heading if rich nations don’t act to cut their fossil fuel use and reduce emissions.   

“Agricultural communities in developing countries are already bearing the brunt of the climate emergency and they rely on stable and predictable climates to feed their families.  That is why it’s vital they receive a lot more financial support to adapt to this changing climate.”  

“This year’s COP29 summit in Baku, Azerbaijan, needs to be the ‘climate finance COP’ where rich countries must start providing the needed investment. This needs to be new, additional grants to developing countries that won’t saddle them with debt but will help reduce the impacts of the climate crisis on those that have done the least to cause it.”  

Jolis Bigirimana, avocado farmer, founder & president, Farmer’s Pride Burundi:

“In Burundi climate change is a huge problem, especially for avocado growers. We are experiencing hot temperatures, heavy rain and erosion which is having a terrible impact on farmers productivity and their income.

“We only have a very short period of rainfall here in Burundi and during that period avocado growers used to water their plants. But because of climate change the weather is now more extreme and this has affected our productivity. It now costs us a lot of money to water our crops which has affected our income and is a threat to our livelihoods.

“Climate change also reduces soil fertility which leads to an extra cost of buying fertiliser which reduces our incomes further.  Because there is no irrigation system, farmers have to pay a water seller to bring water for the crops. If we had some irrigation that would much better and reduce costs. But we lack the infrastructure and need more investment.

“We need to see richer, polluting countries cut their carbon emissions which is driving this extreme weather and also provide finance to help us adapt to the changing climate.”

Honor Eldridge, expert on sustainable food policy and author of The Avocado Debate:

“Avocados are very temperamental to grow. They don’t like extreme temperature. Rising temperatures and increased extreme weather events will have a significant impact of their production. These challenges are specific to each growing region, but one thing is constant. avocados require lots of water. It takes, on average, 320 litres of water to produce just one avocado. However, with climate instability, many of the countries that grow avocados are facing growing water stress, like Peru and Colombia, which is impacting harvests and destroying livelihoods. Producing an avocado is therefore becoming increasingly expensive and these costs will likely be passed onto the consumer, raising the price we pay for our guacamole.

“Mexico is the largest producer of avocados in the world and is suffering significant climate impacts, including the disruption to El Nino. Farmers face months and months of reduced rainfall and are required to irrigate their orchards to cope with the droughts and maximise yields. However, this irrigation diverts water from local communities. Indigenous people are feeling the impacts of reduced flow with cultural traditions and local fishing, being destroyed. This is causing additional social and cultural pressures in the region.”

Professor Carol Wagstaff, Dean for Agriculture, Food and Health, University of Reading:

“Avocados represent the tension that can exist between consuming a healthy diet and a sustainable one. On one hand they are delicious packages of things that are good for us to eat such as healthy fats, vitamins and potassium, but they require a huge amount of water to produce a crop. Climate change is leading to a hotter and drier world, threatening the production of avocados and the availability of the precious water they need. We require a multipronged solution: we have to embrace different cultivation systems that do not rely on deforestation and monoculture production which makes avocado vulnerable to diseases, destroys soil quality and biodiversity, and reduces the availability of water, all of which are crucial to enabling resilience of avocado trees and other crops. Crucially, we also need to stop human activities and industrial processes which drive the higher temperatures and extreme weather events associated with climate change. If we do not take collective action we will lose a lot more than just avocados from our diet and the natural environment.”

Dr Chloe Sutcliffe, research fellow in sustainable horticulture at the Royal Horticultural Society:

“The UK currently obtains most of its avocados from Peru and Chile, where water scarcity is already high and expansion of avocado production has, in some cases, already compromised access to water for smallholder farmers.  It is very likely that the impacts of climate change on water availability will further exacerbate water scarcity issues in these areas.”  

Philip Galgallo, Burundi Country Manager, Christian Aid:

“Here in Burundi we are really feeling the negative effects of climate change, particularly those growing food such as avocados. The last couple of years we have seen increased climate disasters, including floods, droughts and landslides that have devastated household food security. The impact of water runoff on the soil fertility is quite evident leading to poor productivity. Our former President was a keen promoter of avocados to prevent hunger and the culture of growing avocados, both as a fruit tree and a commercial tree is slowly taking foot in Burundi. But if the climate gets worse that will be made even harder.”

Sarah Peake, the Eden Project’s Content Curation Manager said:

"Climate change is threatening food production systems and some types of food production are exacerbating climate change. It's a vicious cycle. We need urgent action to reduce greenhouse emissions, and also to improve the resilience of growing systems and communities that rely on them for their livelihoods. It doesn't stop there - we can all lessen our impact on the planet by thinking about what we eat and where it comes from.”

Notes to editors

Mexico

Mexico, where the fruit originates and the world’s largest producer, is expected to face a 2-3C rise in average temperature and a 50-100mm decrease in precipitation by the middle of the century assuming moderate greenhouse gas emission scenarios. This could cause a collapse of several crops, especially avocado since it is estimated that the water requirement in avocado crops is five times higher than that of pine forests.  A 2021 study which looked at the potential growing regions for Mexican avocados in 2050 found that the growing area could be reduced by 31% even if global average temperature rise was limited to under 2C by 2100, and as much as 43% if global average temperature rises towards 5C.  In the key avocado growing state of Michoacán, the potential growing area would be reduced by 59% and 72.3% by 2050 under each climate scenario.

Spain

European heatwaves are on the rise and pose a particular threat to the avocado. In 2023, the avocado harvest in Spain was expected to be 60% smaller than that of 2022 as another heatwave enveloped the region. An attribution study found that present elevated greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere made the heatwaves 2.5ºC hotter in Europe.

South Africa

A 2018 survey of avocado workers in South Africa found 87% of respondents saying they had observed shifting weather patterns and that the higher temperatures and lower rainfall were negatively affecting avocado crop yields.  With around 6,000 permanent farming jobs and an additional 2,000 casual jobs being created by avocado production, climate change also poses major economic and social impacts to these workers.

Burundi

In Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries, avocados are vital source of nutrition with the country’s president encouraging a pass planting scheme to tackle hunger. But hotter temperatures and erratic rainfall is making life hard for avocado growers, pushing up costs and threatening the food security of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Chile

Chile has struggled with increasing problems due to fungal diseases of the avocado trees, coinciding with extensive droughts. In Chile, the trees are densely planted, which means that they need pruning more often than they might otherwise.. This increases the risks of infection through pruning wounds.. Trees that are stressed by other factors, such as poor irrigation, nutritional stress and large-scale insect attack are also more susceptible to succumbing to fungal diseases.

Source - https://mediacentre.christianaid.org.uk

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