The United States (U.S.) imports 87 percent of its avocados from a single Mexican region, Michoacán. Although environmental and social costs associated with avocado production are significant, consumers and retailers in the U.S. cannot clearly discern them in part due to complex, opaque supply chains. In this paper, we use a novel methodology, TRAcking Corporations Across Space and Time (TRACAST), to reconstruct avocado supply chains between the U.S. retailers and Mexican producers and exporters. Using remote sensing and machine learning, we document how avocado plantations are associated with deforestation in Michoacán, whose forests are important reservoirs for biodiversity, especially for the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). We estimate that ~20% of the total deforestation in Michoacán between 2001 and 2017 is associated with the expansion of avocado plantations. Despite these impacts, interviews reveal that industry associates (namely, representatives of firms and associations) do not consider avocado production to be a driver of deforestation in the region. This disconnect between actual and perceived environmental impacts can be addressed by the U.S. governmental agencies that play influential roles in regulating avocado imports for sanitary and health purposes and by the vertically integrated avocado trading firms that connect Michoacán packing houses to Kroger, Costco, and other prominent U.S. grocers. Key measures to make the U.S.–Mexico avocado supply chain more sustainable include conventional regulatory tools, greater transparency, and improved governance through multi-stakeholder initiatives.
CSS Publication Number:
Supply chain transparency
Journal of Environmental Management
January 15, 2021
Cho, Kimin, Benjamin Goldstein, Dimitrios Gounaridis and Joshua P. Newell (2021) “Where does your guacamole come from? Detecting deforestation associated with the export of avocados from Mexico to the United States.” Journal of Environmental Management. 278(111482): 1-9.