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How Reliant Is the U.S. on Avocados From Mexico?

Americans have a growing appetite for avocados, and a single state in Mexico supplies nearly all of the fruit eaten in the United States.

This reliance is highlighted when imports are disrupted. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently suspended inspections of avocados and mangoes set to be shipped from Mexico, citing security issues for agency workers stationed in Michoacán, a state in western Mexico where criminal groups have sought to infiltrate the thriving avocado industry.

The U.S. ambassador to Mexico said in late June that inspections would “gradually” resume, and visited Michoacán last week to meet with state and federal authorities.

Here’s what to know about the avocado trade between the United States and Mexico.

The average American consumes more than eight pounds of avocados per year, roughly triple the amount in the early 2000s, according to the U.S.D.A.

Most of that rise in demand has been met by imports. The United States imported a record 2.8 billion pounds of avocados in 2023, accounting for about 90 percent of the fruit supply, up from 40 percent two decades ago. A vast majority of U.S. avocado imports come from Mexico, which has become the world’s top producer, largely in response to the pull of rising demand from U.S. consumers. Most of Mexico’s avocado production is centered in Michoacán.

California produces about 90 percent of the avocados grown in the United States. But irregular weather patterns linked to climate change, including droughts and wildfires, have put a strain on the state’s farms in recent years, further feeding a reliance on imports.

Mexico’s avocado exports were worth just over $3 billion last year, with about 80 percent of sales going to the United States. From 2014 to 2023, production of the crop increased by about 75 percent, with avocados becoming Mexico’s fourth most valuable agricultural export, behind beer, tequila and berries.

Avocados from Michoacán and the neighboring state of Jalisco can be exported duty-free to the United States. Inspectors employed by a unit of the U.S.D.A. vet producers and packing plants in Mexico as part of a program designed to make sure orchards and other facilities that handle the crops are free of pests and comply with food safety standards.

Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said two employees of the U.S.D.A.’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service were assaulted and detained while traveling in Michoacán, where they had been surveying orchards and packing plants. The employees were later released, but the episode led to a temporary halt of inspections of avocados and mangoes destined for the United States. A “satisfactory” proposal on worker safety allowed the inspectors to return to work, Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said on Monday.

Cartels in Michoacán, one of Mexico’s most violent states, have sought to reap the benefits of the lucrative avocado trade, leading to threats, abductions and killings. Some Indigenous communities have set up security patrols as a line of defense against criminal groups in the area.

The United States also temporarily banned avocado imports from Mexico in 2022, after a plant safety inspector in Michoacán received a threatening message.

In 2021, the authorities in Mexico and the United States agreed to allow avocado imports from Jalisco in addition to Michoacán. That helps diversify the sources of avocados, said Luis Ribera, a professor of international trade at Texas A&M University, but the heavy reliance on Michoacán means unrest there will continue to affect the reliability of supplies, he added.

“Just doing business in Mexico, you have to account for that,” Mr. Ribera said.

Environmental and human rights groups have also warned of widespread and accelerating deforestation in western Mexico to clear the land for avocado orchards. On top of releasing climate-warming gases, deforestation to expand avocado production, which requires vast amounts of water, has drained aquifers on which many farmers rely.

In the United States, the California Avocado Commission estimated that the state’s producers would grow 208 million pounds of avocados in the 2023-24 season, the smallest yield since 2008. Climate change, urban development and high water costs have contributed to a shrinking of the acreage devoted to avocado production in the state’s southern counties, which is the lowest it has been since the 1970s.

Emiliano Rodríguez Mega contributed reporting.

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