While avocado has grown in popularity in China due to a fitness craze, it has led to a series of problems for the source country which is Chile. By 2017, half of China’s avocados came from Chile.

Not only has the fruit tripled in price in Chile, it has led to water shortages since the avocado fruit requires a lot of water to grow. The amount of water it takes to produce one avocado is sufficient for three oranges or 14 tomatoes. Since avocado plantations have been extracting more water than authorised, local communities have been deprived from access to water.

Some agri-businesses resort to constructing illegal underground water systems to extract water from the national rivers to irrigate their avocado plantations. This has caused the groundwater level to drop to the extent that the local government has resorted to trucking water to residents living in rural areas.

Read the full article on Channel News Asia: Avocados hit sweet spot in China, while sucking Chile dry


The water shortage problems in Chile have been present before China increased its demands for avocado and this has been exacerbated by the drought in Central Chile. Thus, while China is not at fault at causing the water problems, is there a way that they can manage their consumption such that avocado plantations do not suck the local communities dry?

In some parts of Europe, the fruit has been removed from the menu. In Denmark, avocados from these water-scarce communities in Chile are restricted from purchase. However, the agri-businesses have retorted that they would just sell their avocados to China. Would China be motivated to change its consumption patterns by choosing more sustainable (and hence more expensive) producers?

An additional concern is how can the local governments in Chile balance the interests between the farmers and the residents? The local governments have commented that they did not have the power to evaluate the environmental impact of agriculture, while the ministry responsible does not consider agriculture as something that could impact the environment. If there are no governmental measures to secure water for the population, who would stand up for the residents then?

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. If you knew that your consumption of a particular product indirectly contributes to an environmental problem elsewhere, would you reduce your consumption? Or would you think that your actions are insignificant given the large scale of the issue?
  2. To what extent should we be responsible for the social and environmental impact of the products and services that we consume? Explain.

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘bilateral’: involving two parties, especially countrie
  2. ‘perpetuity’: the state or quality of lasting forever