Demand for avocados led to drought in Chilean region which supplies UK

Avocado crush: Britain’s insatiable appetite for avocados has brought drought to Chilean region which supplies major UK supermarkets

  • Villagers in avocado producing region say water diverted from their homes 
  • They claim this has led to a drought and they have to use contaminated water 
  • Activist claims attempts to raise issue has led death threats from producers 
  • UK imported 17,000 tonnes of avocados from Chile in 2016, rose 27% last year

Major supermarkets have launched an investigation amid claims Britain’s hunger for avocados is fuelling a water drought in Chile.

Thousands of tonnes of the fruit are being sourced from a region where villagers say vast amounts of water are being diverted away from their homes to meet demand.

They claim the diversions are illegal and violating water rights in the south American country’s largest avocado-producing province, Petorca, where Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, Aldi and Lidl source stocks from.

A farmer shows an avocado at an orchard in Valle Hermoso, La Ligua, province of Petorca, Chile’s largest avocado producing region

Private plantations are said to install illegal pipes and wells to divert water from rivers to irrigate their crops.

Villagers say this has led to a drought and that they are sometimes forced to use contaminated water delivered by truck.

Veronica Vilches, an activist and director of a water system responsible for supplying 1,000 homes near capital Santiago, said: ‘People get sick because of the drought.

‘We find ourselves having to choose between cooking and washing, going to the bathroom in holes in the ground or in plastic bags, while big agri-businesses earn more and more.’

The villager added: ‘For years, avocado plantations have used up all the water that should be used for everything else. And now the rivers have dried up, just like the aquifers.

‘Here there are more avocados than people, but only people are lacking water, never the avocados.’

She claimed her activism has led to death threats from powerful industry figures in the country.

She told the Guardian: ‘They pulled up in front of my house in a car with tinted windows and insulted me. Then they said if I didn’t stop they would kill me.

Villagers claim that that avocado production is diverting water away from their homes. Pictured are avocados being grown in Valle Hermosa, Petroca province 

‘They have also offered me money to remain quiet. But I will continue on my path. They can’t buy my dignity.’

UK demand for avocados had soared by 27 per cent in the last year.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the major supermarkets, said stores were aware of the allegations and are helping to investigate them.

A spokesperson said: ‘Our members have been made aware of the allegations made regarding production practices of avocados in the Petorca region of Chile. Retailers will work with their suppliers to investigate this.

‘Safeguarding the welfare of people and communities in supply chains is fundamental to our sourcing practices as a responsible industry.’

Chile’s water authority, the Dirección General de Aguas, published a report in 2011 showing water was being diverted from rivers to private plantations via at least 65 illegal channels.

Some agribusinesses have been convicted for unauthorised water use and misappropriation.

Rodrigo Mundaca, an activist for environmental organisation Modatima, said the situation meant ‘life is becoming unbearable’.

He said: ‘This is a very dry region, where it almost never rains, so every cultivated hectare requires 100,000 litres of water per day, an amount equivalent to what a thousand people would use in a day.’

Around 2,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilo of avocados.

The UK imported 17,000 tonnes of avocados in 2017, a figure that rose by 27 per cent last year

It is about four times the amount needed to produce the same weight of oranges and around ten times what is needed for a kilo of tomatoes, according to the Water Footprint Network.

However, more water is required in the Petorca region because of its rugged, dry terrain.

The UK imported more than 17,000 tonnes of avocados from Chile in 2016 and demand has soared 27 per cent in the last year.

Around 67 per cent of those avocados come from the Valparaiso region, where Petorca is located.

A Lild spokesperson said: ‘While not all of our avocados are sourced from the Chilean province of Petorca, those that do come from this region are sourced from Rainforest Alliance-certified producers.

‘Nevertheless, we were concerned to learn of these allegations and will therefore be investigating the matter with both our supplier and the Rainforest Alliance.’ 

 

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