Committed to sustainable practices, the avocado industry, its members, and its success depend on the conservation of the natural environment, soil, forests, and water, as well as the economic security of its fundamental communities in Michoacán.
Promoting responsible farming practices is a cornerstone of the Association of Avocado Exporting Producers and Packers of Mexico (APEAM). The association’s mission is not only to offer national and international markets a top-quality product, but to grow, harvest, and export those fruits sustainably, all while providing prosperity to the avocado-producing communities of Michoacán.
Approximately 29,000 avocado farmers in Michoacán export their fruit to the U.S., relying on their farms to support their families and their future business. For these farmers and the communities they live in, the sustainability of the avocado industry must be maintained. That obligation to protect the communities, the land, and the water is at the heart of the avocado industry’s Green Agenda.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was renegotiated in 2018 and, as a result, the new United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) went into effect in 2020. It has extended openness among the markets of North America, and raised standards for free and fair trade, particularly among farmers and manufacturers. Spurred on by these reforms, and in cooperation with the USDA, APEAM has confirmed its dedication to accountable environmental practices and its attention to industry labor issues by creating the Green Agenda.
The Green Agenda is a comprehensive research report that provides a diagnosis of the avocado industry’s sustainability in Michoacán. Its findings provide insights on the alignment of avocado nurseries, orchards, pickers, packers, exporters, and consumption in the U.S. The goal of the project is to achieve a greater level of sustainability within the industry and the communities of Michoacán in which it is rooted, while increasing positive competition and responsible farming practices.
Looking ahead, the Mexican avocado industry is aligning its sustainable ambitions with the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. An official agreement was signed between APEAM and the UN on September 9, 2020, a green commitment that will resonate through the future generations of avocado orchards in Michoacán, the country of Mexico, and the world.
Although they supply more than 80% of the avocados consumed in the U.S., the avocado orchards in Michoacán make up less than 2.5% of the entire state. The majority of these orchards are small farms:67% of the orchards occupy less than 25 acres each, and another 25% occupy 25-75 acres. Most of these orchards are run by generations of Michoacán growers whose families have historically relied on the earth. The ability of these family farms to support themselves comes directly from the land, and its protection is their preservation.
The avocado-producing regions provide a verdant haven for the people whose livelihoods have been tied to the land for generations. Avocados grow in altitudes between 2,000 and 10,000 feet. In Michoacán, orchards are placed at varying elevations that form many different microclimates. This supports a constant cycle of four blooms which secure a steady harvest in every season.
Meanwhile, the area’s rich, volcanic soil provides nutrients to the avocado trees and surrounding forests — it acts as a natural fertilizer, reducing the need for using agrochemicals in the orchards. In turn, the trees and forests provide stable and predictable temperatures, trapping moisture that reduces soil erosion. The innate harmony between Michoacán’s soil and trees act to maintain the perfect, natural temperature for avocado growth (between 46 F and 86 F) while supporting the biodiversity of the area.
To protect sustainability, the avocado orchards in Michoacán that wish to export their fruits must follow these sustainable avocado farming guidelines, under the supervision of APEAM:
This protects the natural biodiversity of the area and creates a balance within the ecosystem.
Prohibiting untethered canines helps to prevent pollution brought in from their waste, while also protecting the territory of the natural fauna.
This safeguards the cleanliness of the soil, the natural water table, and local flora that grows in the groves.
Providing workers with services and education on sanitation secures an environment in line with the health and well-being of the orchard staff.
Conducting blood tests to the crew responsible for applying fertilizers ensures that agrochemicals used within the orchards are not contaminating the surrounding environment or the farmers themselves.
In 2011, APEAM launched a reforestation initiative in an attempt to bolster the natural biodiversity of Michoacán. Since then, more than 2,200 acres have been replanted with various species native to the area. These trees and plants are cultivated in nurseries before finding homes in the wild, where they are planted according to elevation to obtain an impressive survival rate of 85%.
Fostering the natural ecosystem of the avocado farmland is inseparable from ensuring the endurance of the orchards themselves. Sustainable farming consists of preserving the forests of the region, which in turn secure better soil and air quality, less erosion, and cleaner water for all the inhabitants of Michoacán.
The preservation of water is a top priority for APEAM — the literal source of life, water is a vital and irreplaceable part of agriculture. With heavy rainfalls over a six-month wet season, the avocado fringe in Michoacán is one of the most extensive water-generating reservoirs in Mexico. The abundant natural rainfall in Michoacán feeds the two main rivers within the state, and much of it permeates the soil. Under the shade of the avocado groves and surrounding forests, this moisture is retained and evaporation is minimal, preventing erosion.
Approximately 61% of the avocado orchards in Michoacán rely on natural, seasonal irrigation. Another 36% utilize sustainable, high-tech irrigation such as drip irrigation and micro-sprinkling. Together, 97% of avocado orchards in the region depend primarily on sustainable irrigation practices, leaving only 3% of the orchards that use rolling irrigation at all — a significant contrast with the 70% average in other agricultural areas of Mexico.
APEAM is committed to conserving the natural environment as well as the economic security of its fundamental communities in Michoacán. Research from the Green Agenda has indicated that avocado-producing areas have improved roads and infrastructure, and have indicators of less poverty and marginalization, and better conditions for social development than other areas of Michoacán.
To further enhance that social development, APEAM been a partner of the Lazos Foundation since 2011. The alliance has promoted continued education for disadvantaged children and schools within the avocado-producing regions. The association has also surveyed members for compliance with labor laws and, along with the USDA and local Mexican authorities, has established high standards of food safety practice.
The economic opportunities and cultural impact of the avocado industry has led to a dramatic cut in undocumented emigration from Michoacán and provided thousands of families with the opportunity to make a living in their country of origin. In turn, these families and workers, following the sustainable and responsible farming practices overseen by APEAM and their collaborating partners (SADER and the USDA), play an important role as stewards of the earth.
True sustainability is, at its core, entering into a positive cycle which allows the natural environment to thrive, and thereby provides the basis for culture, economy, and the earth to flourish in harmony. As the avocado industry thrives, it gives back to the natural ecosystem and so the cycle perpetuates itself. While this sustainable agenda is ambitious, it’s fundamental for the success of the industry and the prosperity of the world.
The Green Agenda is a technical and diagnostic report in progress.