The majority of avocados we eat are the Hass variety, named after its initial planter, propagator, and patent-owner, Rudolph Hass, who planted the first of its kind in California in 1920. The original tree succumbed to root fungus in 2002, after being tended by Hass’s children for 50 years after his death
In Canada, the popularity and consumption of avocados has increased by more than 350 percent in the last decade, from 15.8 million kilograms imported in 2003 to over 57 million kilograms in 2013. Of that 57 million, almost 80 percent were grown in Mexico.
Individual trees take eight years to become fully productive, and if cared for, can produce up to 100 kilograms of fruit per year for 20 to 25 years. Avocados are a climacteric fruit, which means they’re picked when mature but ripen in storage or transport. This is why avocados can be harvested thousands of kilometres away but still arrive fresh in our grocery stores. That said, avocados are a perishable commodity and can damage easily. Producers in developing countries can lose up to 50 percent of yields before their product reaches store shelves.
For growers, negotiating contracts with local traders can be difficult, as these arrangements are often verbal and may not contain conditions for quality, price, or payment. Buyers rarely pay on delivery, and when they do it may be on reduced terms—if they pay at all. And while traders can always find new sources, growers must take what they can get.
Vast and inefficient distribution networks can also affect price. In Mexico, excessive handling through large, centralized distribution centres can mean shipments will pass through the same place more than once before reaching their final destination. This increases the cost of the final product, which is mitigated by paying farmers less—often less than national minimum requirements. In addition, growers rarely receive overtime pay or vacations.
At a recent panel discussion in Vancouver, Gustavo Vallejo Esquivel of Pragor Organic Avocado in Michoacan, Mexico, spoke about how fair trade practices have helped growers avoid excessive handling in conventional supply chains. “We now sell directly to the [Canadian] importer,” said Vallejo Esquivel.
For Vallejo Esquivel, fair trade equates to better prices and higher wages for workers. The additional premiums from fair trade have also allowed his community to build walls around cemeteries to prevent dogs from digging up gravesites. They’ve also invested in health projects for seniors and a music school to help promote local cultural traditions among the community’s youth.
“There are a lot of people living in a community who don’t think they can participate, but when you give them education and training, they can do anything,” said Vallejo Esquivel.
Bryce is an assistant editor at the Canadian Fair Trade Network.