This week I was supposed to talk about the Imperial College Endowment Fund. But given the post mortem has been carried out and Imperial students have got back to thinking about the science stuff, I thought I’d write about drugs and avocadoes.
Let’s start with the latter. They’re green, they’re clean and a fruit, not a vegetable. They also contain approximately four grams of protein and have helped facilitate surging trends in veganism, ‘raw’ eating and all round healthiness. Some talk so highly about them you would think they are the underlying cause of this generational shift, such are their properties. In the UK alone avocado sales increased by £29.8m from 2016 to 2017 and in 2015 the US consumed 4 billion of the damn things. The Hass Avocado Board (real thing) recorded 92,535,729 kg of avocados produced worldwide in 2018 so far, this being estimated to hit 405,195,664 kg by July. In short, our increased demand for them in the West has seen prices soar and the profits roll in. So far, so good for consumers and exporters alike.
One such exporter, Mexico, produces 45% of the world’s green gold. It is also a country plagued by drug cartels. For all the millions and millions that have been invested in the war against drugs, organised crime still seems to hold Mexico in a state of terror. In fact, last year was the country’s most violent on record as homicides totalled 29,168. Of course not all these deaths can be attributed to the cartels, but an alarming proportion are.
“Whenever hardworking people are prospering there’s always a parasite wanting their slice of the action”
What’s the link between avocados and cartels? Well, that’s simple. Whenever hardworking people are evidently prospering, there’s always a parasite wanting their slice of the action. Michoacán, a province known to be the avocado capital of Mexico, is the prime example, having previously been burdened by the parasitic tendencies of cartels. On noticing farmers’ lucrative activities, cartels would force payments upon the crop’s production, taking their cut as a sort of protection money. If payments failed to be met, threats, kidnap and murder would follow. Thus a tense, fractured atmosphere pervades in many parts of Michoacán, and all to keep the shelves of our supermarkets sufficiently stocked.
On a broader spectrum, it does seem to be a recurring pattern that whenever a new superfood, new fad or even new must-have pet emerges, with the huge economic prospects come unforeseen problems. Unforeseen because demand becomes so intense so fast that the whole nature of the suppliers’ original business has to aggressively evolve or itself be hijacked. In Peru there were rumblings that the popularity of quinoa in wealthy countries may be outpricing Andeans, for whom it has been a staple for generations. It’s known that demand for ‘designer dogs’ – pugs, dachshunds, French bulldogs (or whatever the new look this season is) – has meant barbaric industrial-scale puppy farming. To note a less extreme example, think of every time a new incredible holiday destination is displayed on Facebook, encouraging you to tag your ‘travel buddy’. You can almost guarantee that next year, car parks will be overflowing with minibuses and someone has probably thought to bring in a KFC.
“Money needs to be made before our goldfish brains turn to the next exciting thing”
Now we have instant connectivity, a trend can spread like wild fire. Oprah says it’s good on a Monday, there’s world consensus by Tuesday morning. And so my point is this: there’s no time to think of the consequences. Suppliers know that demand must be met immediately, money needs to be made and the opportunity taken before our goldfish brains turn to the next exciting thing. Many suppliers can, for a time, fare well by catering to these wants. But often the pressure is too instantaneous, too unsustainable. Authorities cannot plan for such rapid rises of industry and are therefore unprepared for any unsavoury effects that can come with the boom. Hence Mexico, cartels and the avocado’s potential to cause violent conflict at any given moment.
But before you start worrying that even avocados do more harm than good and before you start contemplating that anything you like is bound to be causing destruction somewhere along the line, let me offer some hope. Residents of Tancítaro, a city in Michoacán, have taken matters into their own hands by setting up self-defence groups backed by government forces. They have effectively driven the cartels out and for the most part people live in safety, no thanks to any of us importing countries.
Michoacán therefore lives to fight another day. Hipsters up and down the nation can breathe a sigh of relief that their avocado smoothies and face masks are still bang on the money.