In recent times the consumption of avocados has come under the spotlight as a result of their high water usage, I think that the Netflix series Rotten, with the season two, first episode titled "The Avocado War" (go watch it after you have read this), did a lot for people to re-think their consumption of this superfood, that is packed with natural goodness. People question the re-routing of water for the purposes of consumption of export foods, at the expense of local communities. It turns out however that you cannot have it both ways, if you want an avocado from a high rainfall area, then you must expect an uneven skin finish. These avocado trees below are around one year old, on our commercial farm, a recent planting. These trees grow alongside natural trees that you can see up on the ridge above. There is irrigation present, a lot of the time as a result of the high rainfall, this is not needed. The irrigation is obtained directly from groundwater a little higher up and to the right of this picture. The irrigation, when used is gravity fed, i.e. the pressure is built up inside of the water piping using natural pressures. As we farm regeneratively, often the look of cover crops planted in-between the orchards is not what you would imagine an industrial orchard to look like.
I have read a lot about water consumption of various foods and goods that we consume. And increasingly, as we mentioned above, avocados have come under the spotlight for their thirstiness. Of course, like almost anything in the world, it depends where you are. For instance, in Chile, a country well renowned for their excellent avocado production, the surrounds of the Valparaíso region has nearly two-thirds of all the fruit's production. A quick climate check of the region sees annual rainfall for Valparaíso itself, the closest town to major production, reveals that less than 400 mm of rain falls. Most of the irrigation is obtained from tapping into the water fed from the Aconcagua River which according to a recent scientific paper titled Where Does the Chilean Aconcagua River Come from? is under severe pressure. The paper suggests that the drought has gotten pretty bad:
"The Aconcagua river basin (Chile, 32 ◦S) has suffered the effects of the megadrought
over the last decade. The severe snowfall deficiency drastically modified the water supply to the catchment headwaters."
So obviously a litre of water in Chile at the base of an avocado tree is more costly than in some other areas of the world. Where we are, in Rungwe, we fall into a Tropical savanna climate as defined by the Köppen climate classification. We can see Mount Rungwe, nearby Tukuyu records around 1400 mm of rainfall per annum, Mount Rungwe an astonishing nearly 3 meters of rain a year. Tukuyu is four times and then some of the Chilean producing areas, Mount Rungwe nearly 7 times. Let us just say that water is not a problem. The deep volcanic soils in the Mbeya region (the province where we are) also drain incredibly quickly, and like in the Aconcagua river basin, the climatic conditions, i.e. the temperature range which is so important for avocado consumption, is spot on. The major difference when harvesting most fruit, is that it really helps when you are harvesting that it is dry. This is as a result of aesthetic reasons, the consumer really does like a good looking piece of fruit. When you harvest in the wet, you get often something called lenticel damage. In our area this cannot be helped, in the same way that if you waiting for the rain to clear in Scotland to play golf, a friend of my mother-in-law's said, you would never play golf. In major supermarkets around the world, in developed countries, we demand an evenness in appearance of our hard earned monies that we part with. Avocados are no different, typically the supermarket consumer will not see the second grade or third grade fruit that will go into either fruit markets or processing programs, guacamole/pastes and oil for instance. Harvesting with an absence of sunlight leads to a perfect skin finish. Something that I know the European fruit dealers and supermarkets are looking for, because their customers are looking for that. There is a certain irony in that, don't you think? The perfect growing conditions lead to inferior looking fruit. The consumer, instead of thinking that a more nutritious (volcanic soil) and completely water neutral fruit (rainfall covers the irrigation), looks at the finish. This is actually for all fruits and vegetables, which then find their way into processing. Ironically, if the consumer was less worried about the "finish" of the skin, and more about the climatic conditions meeting higher and higher standards, we would win hands down almost all of the time. It is time for the consumer to demand to know the facts, and to gravitate towards the fruit that will be better for the environment and themselves, rather than be pointed towards what you think looks best. We are however conditioned to be attracted to something attractive, and on this score we have really worked hard to improve skin finish, and by extension compete harder. Watch this space.