Algarve Avocados: a farmers point of view

By Paula Martins, in News · 13-11-2020 01:00:00 · 19 Comments

The production of avocados in the Algarve has sparked public outrage, with strong opinions against avocado production due to the exacerbated waste of water. The Portugal News took the challenge and tried to find out more about this controversial topic.

Avocado farms are becoming more and more common in the Algarve. Due to the fruit being recognised as very beneficial to human health, demand has increased, the price has risen and, consequently, the production also experienced an increase, not only in Portugal, but wherever the fruit can be grown – that means tropical and subtropical regions.

Joaquim Mourinho, owner of Frutas Mourinho, who aside from avocados, also farms pomegranates and citrus fruits, clarifies the benefits around the avocado production that is useful not only for the local economy but also for the environment
“Avocado farms don’t need more water per hectare than citrus fruits and in the Algarve we have 1600 hectares of avocados and 15000 hectares of citrus fruits” that have the same usage of water as avocados, according to the farmer. Additionally, avocados barely need any pesticides and herbicides, because they usually restore the organic matter by themselves.

Joaquim Mourinho said: “Just one avocado tree is able to transform carbon dioxide into enough oxygen for two adults”, which has notable benefits for reducing the ecological footprint.

In 1986, there were already an estimated 70 hectares of avocado farms in the Algarve, which were “more of an experiment than anything else”, the farmer said. About ten years ago, the health benefits of avocados started to spread and, obviously, the consumption increased hand in hand with the production. The question is: who will produce avocados and where? For Joaquim Mourinho there is no doubt, either we produce near the consumers, or all the production will come from Latin-America. “There is nothing better than fruit being produced in the region of consumption, whenever possible, to avoid the transport from South and Central America by boat where lots of fuel is burned and released into the atmosphere”. Nothing about this will damage the environment and contribute to the increase of theozone hole”, said the farmer to The Portugal News.

“In addition to promoting the local economy, we respect nature and reduce the atmospheric impact”, said the farmer.

He also added: “Avocado production contributes to the creation of jobs - directly and indirectly. For example, there are transport companies delivering avocados from the Algarve to all over Europe; there are many factories producing boxes to pack the fruits safely; and also we have people doing the accounting of these companies, and they also pay their taxes to the state”.

The benefits are also seen in the water cycle. Joaquim Mourinho explained that when it rains, without the land being cultivated, the water has more difficulty infiltrating because the land is compact, not allowing the creation of groundwater and the water drains without any real use. With more agriculture the water penetrates the subsoil more easily. “There is no water shortage in the Algarve, water is being wasted through ineffective methods, because it rains and water drains without infiltrating”, said the farmer.

That means, for Joaquim Mourinho, that the issue around the lack of water in the Algarve is supported through a lie. “The Algarve has a lot of water, but the management of it is wrong – we need to build more dams, more vegetation, create conditions to avoid runoff from rainwater- because we clearly do not have the right methods to make the most out of the water available in the Algarve”.

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Hey Tony B
You are thinking from a Humans prespective... do you think slaughtered sharks or wild life who loses their habit (by bulldozing land to plant avocados for example) care about our pandemic?

The problem of us Humans is we more often than not only tend to see things from our own Human perspective...
and guess what..? That’s exactly why we are all in this deep dark pandemic pit...

The avocados is only and example and a small drop in the ocean. So yes Tony, it does matter...

By Miguel from UK on 20-02-2021 01:21

Tony, it's not just a matter of building more dams. There needs to be water to fill those dams. The Spaniards are also building dams, which leads to the question, how much water will there be for Portugal. The Tejo is an example of this. Precipitation up until this past winter has been low. Demand for water continues to be high. We're burning the candle at both ends.

If we (collectively) were interested in creating more oxygen, it's not the avocados that are going to be the solution. That we would be far too simple a solution.

How about growing things that are suited for the environment, such as almonds, carub, olives and other native trees species. Have we not learned that nature doesn't adjust to us, but vice versa?

George, Toronto, Canada

By George from Other on 16-01-2021 04:48

The more businesses the better for the Algarve. People need food & jobs. Trees & avocado trees produce oxygen. Just build more dams & irrigation systems for the water. Build wells too. Avocados are good for the health. Tony, Toronto, Canada

By Avocados in Algarve from Other on 13-12-2020 09:03

As DL calls for, I too would like to see a properly researched and balanced article/paper on this contentious subject.

I suspect that the main driver, as usual, is not people's health and whatever else was mentioned in the original article ... but money.

And, if we ask who pays, it's not just water inputs that are at stake. In addition to the many points raised in these comments, one that has only been mentioned in the briefest of passings, is biodiversity and ecological considerations ... especially here in the Ria Formosa.

The reality of growing avocados in the Algarve appears to be using bulldozers to reduce huge swathes of land - which often previously supported a rich diversity of trees, plant life and habitats for animals, insects and birds - to a brown tilth, 2-3m deep. It means ripping out hectares and hectares of the existing diversity of flora and fauna (and that means for all the flora and most of the fauna, killing it) to replace it with a monoculture crop. It means destroying the top soil and its microbiome.

I'm pretty sure there's already a lot of knowledge (and literature) about the dangers of industrial-scale monocropping. It's quite chilling to see the destruction carried out in front of you.

By Charlie from Algarve on 30-11-2020 01:53

I appreciate the article and the unpopular opinion. However, this article is quite biased - it would be great to fact check the claims and present other points of view for a more balanced understanding of what is clearly a complex situation.

By avocadoes_ftw from Lisbon on 20-11-2020 06:31

Let me see if I can understand this, you have a pandemic thats killing millions world wide. you have economies on the brink of collapse, you have people out of work, people are going hungry, people can't pay their rents and mortgages, and what gets all you people riled up is avocados? Really? Take a step back and realize, you all are losing your minds over avocados. Unbelievable.

By Tony B from USA on 17-11-2020 02:19

I'm not sure the hole in the ozone layer is relevant here!

By David from UK on 15-11-2020 05:06

Most people use water in Algarve like whatever, washing terraces with water streem instead of economic way. I will not even start talking about golf courses and other unneeded stuff, which 99% of Portuguese people will never see or use. I support grooving avocado, but it should be done smart, without huge gross fences, not near the ocean, using innovations and paying people fair salary. P. S. I think huge not transparent fences making things look frightening

By Inna Yatsun from Algarve on 15-11-2020 10:11

I would much rather buy Avocado's produced in the Algarve than from a south American country. Less food miles. As an ex resident of th Algarve I support this com pletely. Also they taste so good.

By Rose Collins from UK on 14-11-2020 06:28

DL hit the nail on the head...a health fad of the day. (I'm still eating bananas, and 'an apple a day' but surprisingly, I'm still getting older and don't expect to avoid the grave.) Food fads make celebrity "doctors" and "health" book authors rich! All at the expense of delicate ecosystems and plant and animal habitats, and your wallet.

By William from Other on 14-11-2020 03:26

A good article and I generally agree with Mr Mourinho but if I know anything about the Algarve region it is failure of management everywhere you look, from water conservation, the environment, regional roads and trains to regional health and education provision.

By Agostinho Moniz from Algarve on 14-11-2020 11:17

I am shocked that you publish an article like that. It's outrageous what this guy is bringing up as arguments in favour of avocado farming.
According to his line of logic I can pour 2litres of engine oil in the ground with no problem if my neighbour is spilling 4litres.

I really think you should do some research on that matter and not publish outright lies spread by someone who is exploiting the land and destroys a whole region.
Better talk to the people around Barao de Sao Joao and their observation on the water situation or just test the soil around the portelas plantation which is poisoned with glyphosate.
His statement that avocado plants don't need pesticides is really the icing on his cake of lies.

By Nick from Algarve on 13-11-2020 03:51

The comments are much better - and more honest - than the commercial, I mean ‘article’.
Avocados are great. Industrial monoculture farms, not so much.
And sure, better water management is important. But it should not be an excuse for profiteering.

By Ron from Algarve on 13-11-2020 03:46

Has anybody fact checked his claims?

By Annabelle Reid from Algarve on 13-11-2020 12:55

There is really some truth in the position of the farmer. See for example what the Ecovillage Tamera has created in the Alentejo. Water retention should be a primary concern and ACTIVITY. This brings also a lot of work, with a lot of return of investment for agriculture and nature.

By Rolf from Algarve on 13-11-2020 11:04

In an area as water sensitive as the Algarve, surely the definitive environmental question should be how much water is required to grow an equivalent crop of avocados compared with traditional produce, such as citrus, tomatoes, even almonds?

By Jonathan Elms from Lisbon on 13-11-2020 10:50

Your article is a good start and could establish a basis to investigate further the (claimed) benefits and (potential) negatives of the avocado business.
To mention just a few of the claims in the article: 1 avocado tree furnishing enough oxygen for 2 adults needs to fleshed out. Trees not only produce oxygen during daylight, they also use it at night. I am not a biology graduate and my course on biochemistry 101 has been too long to remember correctly.
And perhaps there is no water shortage in the Algarve, and maybe it is only badly managed. In the meantime however the level of the existing reservoirs are alarmingly low. So why not be wise and fix the leaks and the inadequate infrastructure first before "squandering" this precious liquid on what could be a health fad of the day.
I am looking forward to reading a fleshed out article or even the PhD dissertation of the (non business sponsored) graduate student on the costs and benefits of the avocado. A thorough study covering all disciplines: economy, social impact, ecological footprint, nutritional facts, aesthetical impact, geological implications, impact on biodiversity etc. Surely it is out there. If not it should be. I encourage everyone who claims to be right, and the policy makers too, to first catch up with serious studies instead of throwing out one sided and unverified statements or easy one liners. As for myself I shall now Google the students who graduated with an avocado PhD.

By DL from Algarve on 13-11-2020 10:47

Thank you for this article, it clears up a lot of misunderstandings about the avocado culture in Algarve.

By Scarlett Verkuijlen from Algarve on 13-11-2020 08:50

Sounds all very nice and I agree, we should grow more avocado's here and yes they don't need much chemicals. But foreign companies creating massive plantations with foreign workers for export is not the way in my eyes.Why cut down all the dryland fruittrees and replace them by a massive orchard? integration is the key. Balance.They is water for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed. People also try to grow avocado here in rogil but the trees are too close to the sea and planted the wrong way, i.e not according to the contour of the land to hold water. The young trees almost died in the first winter storm and I don't think they will make it through the winter. Portugal could be leading in ecological production of loads of food instead of letting foreign companies ruin the countryside with mass production and pesticides. Massive olive and almonds production in alentejo is using loads of water killing the bird population by harvesting 24 hours a day, though these can grow without irrigation and why harvest at night?
. In the case of citrus for instance, can be greatly combined with egg production. Citrus needs loads of fertiliser and thrives on chicken manure.therefor reducing the need for fertilisers. Focus on the local market instead of only on export. This way we can preserve and revive the countryside. And yes the water should go to food production not to golfcourses of which there are 37!! In the algarve. In Israel orchards are watered with recycled sewage waterfrom the cities. This could be a great solution for the Algarve.if everyplantation they open they close a golfcourse there will be water for everyone.
If we keep on selling out the water and land like this we will be in serious trouble like in Spain.

By Lisa from Algarve on 13-11-2020 08:35
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