Illegal avocado cultivation found at heart of protected area in Mexico

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Fedeal authorities in Mexico have found illegal avocado cultivation within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the state of Michoacán.

The reserve, which extends for 56,259 hectares and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a protected area and a sanctuary for millions of overwintering Monarch butterflies.

In April last year, IDM reported on the illegal deforestation of 37 hectares of pine forests in Estado de México, which neighbours Michoacán, for avocado plantation. In 2016, concerns were raised about a significant increase in illegal deforestation in Michoacán to make way for the crop.

The Mexican attorney general’s Office for Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) claimed then that 6,000 to 8,000 ha of forests are cleared each year for avocado plantations, much higher rate than the 1,000 ha of deforestation previously thought to be taking place.

Last week was the first time that illegal avocado planting has been found within the reserve. Previously, illegal deforestation linked to avocado production had been found in the pine forests bordering the south and west of the reserve.

The pine trees being targeted by avocado producers provide crucial thermal protection and roosting sites for the butterflies.

Michoacán produces around 80 percent of Mexico’s avocado crop. Avocado production and trade has been growing in recent years, which raises concerns about the future of oak, fir and pine forests in the state. PROFEPA uncovered a series of illegal plantations last year.

There have also been concerns that avocado exports from Michoacán have become a lucrative business for organised crime as drug cartels extort about £86 million a year from producers.

Image on homepage courtesy of Kenneth Dwain Harrelson