US Still Bans Mexican Avocado Imports, Farmers Hit

Experts say Americans may soon have to pay more for avocado toast, and the impact of America’s temporary ban on fruit imports is already being felt by avocado pickers in Mexico.

Mexico is negotiating safety guarantees for American inspectors who allow Mexican avocados to be exported. Inspections were suspended last week after an American inspector in the western state of Michoacan received threats. Farmers in the state have long been targets of extortion by drug cartels.

Avocado pickers this week stood by the roadside outside the town of Uruapan, Michoacan, asking for donations from passersby after they lost their jobs. Holding cartons or signs that read “voluntary donations,” and “we make a living by picking avocados,” they waited for passersby to put their change into the buckets they were carrying.

Although it is still possible to send avocados that have been inspected to the north, on Thursday (17/2) there were signs that inspections on supplies would be getting tougher; while companies importing avocados may have to source from outside Mexico.

Mexico currently supplies about 80 percent of America’s fruit imports.

“Prices are going to go up and there will be a supply shortage, but it will be back to normal in April,” said Miguel Gomez, professor of applied economics and management at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

Peru, Colombia and Chile have sent supplies of avocados to America, but they are not as large as those coming from Mexico.

“To avoid problems like this, American buyers and importers will look to diversify suppliers,” Gomez said. He adds, “when 80 percent of your supply is dependent on one place, it poses a risk when things like this happen.”

The avocado growers’ association and Michoacan state officials met this week with American officials to discuss security assurances for American inspectors.

But while the negotiations are ongoing, avocado growers in Michoacan live in uncertainty. Avocados can still be left on the tree for a period of time, but fruit that has been harvested should be shipped as soon as possible.

In addition, it remains to be seen how American consumers will react in the event of a price increase, adding to the issue of whether Americans are willing to pay more for avocados that are not linked to violence, drug cartels or deforestation. [em/rd]