To find out the farmers' perspective on this controversial subject, we went to visit Célia Fences, who owns a small 4-hectare farm with avocado trees.
Three years ago, Célia Vences, a businesswoman who have never worked in agriculture, took the opportunity to keep the family's land and decided to embrace a new project: the production of avocados.
The family land was about to be sold and Célia only had two options: lose the land where she spent the most important years of her childhood, or embracing a new project on that piece of land. However, it was a shot in the dark as she’d never had any type of contact with these crops.
“My father was a farmer, but never had avocados. However, I did market research and at the time it was one of the most profitable and sustainable crops that I could get, that’s why I decided to embrace this project”. Regarding the lack of environmental sustainability, Célia Vences does not agree with most of the things being said.
“I accept when environmentalists say that avocado crops use water, just like other fruits such as citrus fruits, etc. Actually, everything uses water, including ourselves in our homes,” she said.
But there is a missing detail – “farmers are not interested in spending water, as water now costs a lot of money, electricity is very expensive, and people don't spend water just for the sake of it. In addition, avocados don't like too much water, there’s a balance we must respect,” she added.
Célia told The Portugal News that she does not apply any type of pesticides to her avocado trees, in order to make her fruit farm as environmentally friendly as possible. In addition, she managed to get an efficient irrigation system and save water.
“My father, when he was a farmer, used more water than I do today and he didn't have avocados. Do you know why? Because techniques are getting more and more efficient and people are now aware of the need to adopt more sustainable policies”, she said.
On a guided visit to that fruit farm, Sandra Custódio, an agronomy engineer, explained to us the irrigation technologies that are currently used at Célia’s avocado farm.
“In this farm, there is a drip irrigation system technique, which consists of watering lines next to the crop. This irrigation is made only for the necessary time that the plants need, since it is done with a program and we set the necessary time per day/week that the crop needs water. In addition, nowadays almost all producers already use soil moisture sensors which can let us know how much water a crop needs, and based on when it rains we can calculate the amount of water that the crop will need. For example, this year avocados had needed much less water than they needed before because it rained more and there was more water in the soil”, she said.
“It's possible to find out a lot of information. Even if you want to, you can access the software remotely from your mobile phone or tablet and know in real time if it's raining, how much it rained and the level of water content. There are certain formulas to get there, it's scientific”, said the engineer.
However, even with all this effort by Célia and so many others who follow the same line of thought, people continue to blame avocados for the drought in the Algarve region. “I have read in the news people saying they should kill avocado trees because they are sucking the water from us, but that's a lie!
“Right now there is a campaign against avocados, which is wrong. There are many more citrus fruits in the Algarve, around 18,000 hectares, and avocado trees don't reach 1,800 and, using the same kind of irrigation, the difference between avocados and citrus fruits water consumption is only nearly six percent. Indeed, we have a water problem in the Algarve, it rains less and less, but avocados are not the problem. Tourism also consumes water and there is no reason to stop tourism”.
Regarding the monoculture problem, Célia said that there are some measures to be applied to reduce the impacts that monoculture usually has. For example, she does not cut herbs and other autochthonous plants that grow on the farm because “they are good for improving the soil's water holding capacity, which also reduces the amount of water needed and creates an ecosystem, which is good”.
All in all, the criticism doesn't stop and is negatively impacting the business. In her words, “if we continue to have this evil perspective around the avocado, the Portuguese, who were starting to eat this fruit, will stop consuming it. Anyway, it's sad to hear such negative comments about a crop that brings wealth to the country”, she concluded.
The only ones profiting from growing avocados in Portugal are the farmers. This will have serious repercussions in the near future when there won't be enough water for all. It's just another example of bad management and short term greed (very much like the real estate market). All short term and no care for the environment.
By K from Algarve on 22 Oct 2021, 12:55
Very good article, well done..
People need to get real and understand that farmers try to use just as much water as needed.. and no pesticides if possible.
All the best,
By Markus Jalmerot from Lisbon on 22 Oct 2021, 14:14
I totally disagree with K, when you look at the nutritional value of an avocado it is far better to produce than other crops which use similar amounts of water. A significantly larger consumer of water is dairy farming. It is naive to suggest avocado farmers are the only ones that profit, all farmers seek to profit and the upfront investment is very large. Farming brings jobs and supports many layers of secondary industry, such a farm machinery, irrigation pipes and pumps to name just a few. The government should however monitor farming practices more closely to ensure all types of farming are managed in the most sustainable way. Avocados are a great product for portugal we should celebrate those farmers growing them in a sustainable manner and ideally with organic fertilisers.
By Phil from Algarve on 22 Oct 2021, 16:12
Water use is problematic and farmers will have to adapt, as will our diets. Using the excuse that other crops also use water doesn't mean it's ok to keep using more. An uneven article that glosses over the harm caused.
By Angela 3 from Other on 24 Oct 2021, 15:44
From my background and knowlege within agriculture I totally agree with Célia Fences!
From my perspective I can read "between lines" someone or somebody is feeling stepped on their feets!
There is a lot of money in the the Avocado buissness and not all money made is "CLEAN"!
But for SURE the Avocado plantation mentioned does not go for "shity buisness". To much pesticides used in ordinary Avocado growth! Just to make $$$$$$!
By Urban Lurve from Algarve on 25 Oct 2021, 17:22
Is it not kind of weird, even distorted, that there would be this argument about the use of water in food production when no one mentions or considers the horrendous amount of water used to keep a golf course nice and green? Money I guess!
By JC from Beiras on 25 Oct 2021, 17:42
What about the almond trees that now cover all land between Évora and Reguengos de Monsaraz? All farmed by Spaniards and consuming more water than anything else? This ued to be tomatoes, broccoli and other crops. Now we will get an almond forest, taking water from the Alqueva.
By Gunilla Possenius from Alentejo on 25 Oct 2021, 18:08
What is 'exploitation' of a crop. This is 6000 years old, starting with wheat, rice and corn, the 3 most prolific plants on the planet today, making up 60% of the worlds vegetable production.
Avacado is a nutrition-rich fruit, and they do require some specific climatic conditions to thrive. However, they do not need more or less water than many deciduous, seasonal fruits, and like olives they take time to mature to be productive. I am, as an ecologist, wary of 'exotic' plant species and their potential to spread and cause damage to local water systems, but avocado does not fall into this category.
20 years ago Kiwifruit was being spread from Chinese, (original) locations, New Zealand, (in 1904) and then African locations (1970's). Same process of expansion of avocados, and kiwifruit has not become a problem anywhere. What is has become is a very successful cash crop for any producing nation, especially when getting it to market ahead of competitors.
With good water management avocados do not use more water than many other crops. I cannot judge the far southern areas of Portugal for their suitability to grown avocados, but it is a popular produce, and there is no harm in diversifying Portugal's crops, provided it does not ruin local habitats.
Those protesting too loudly perhaps have other, self-interest reasons for doing so. When it comes to the difficulties and challenges of farming, I say "love thy neighbour". They take the risk, and maybe you reap the rewards!
By Tony Williams from Other on 25 Oct 2021, 18:49
May God continue to Bless, Favor and Prosper Celia and her Avocado Farm. It’s a very healthy and much needed crop in the world. The health & Medical Community should write support articles to educate the people. Hooray for Celia and Avocados. Amén
By Don Santiago from USA on 28 Oct 2021, 07:58