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Avocado v. Coffee, A Battle For Colombian Farmland

There's risk of a veritable 'coffeecide,' as farmers are forgoing tradition and trying to cash in on the craze for Haas avocados.

Coffee plantation in Caldas, Colombia
Coffee plantation in Caldas, Colombia
Uriel Ortiz

BOGOTÁ— There's a crime being committed in certain areas of Colombia, and it has everything to do with Hass, as in the popular variety of avocados.

Hass avocados are all the rage, and to cash in, farmers in the country's coffee-growing lands are switching over to them. But the result is a veritable "coffeecide," the destruction of an area known as the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, or PCC in Spanish (Paisaje Cultural Cafetero). And it must be curbed as soon as possible.

Growing Hass avocados is a passing wave, but with lasting consequences. It's sweeping away this precious landscape — an area that earned an UNESCO heritage site designation in 2012 — as multinationals desperately buy up coffee plots only to cut down their trees and make way for avocados.

It is up to the mayors and mayoresses of the districts affected to take action, if they can...

Every productive project must have a chain of nine steps, as well as a strategic alliance to determine the viability of long-term production and sales. There then needs to be a sectoral association or union formed — with clear statutes and a legal authorities — to order the production and sale of the crop for presentation before official agencies.

When production isn't organized in this way, people rush to grow the crop in any old way, and the result is often bad production quality, mismanagement of harvests, inadequate storage and/or deficient packaging. And that, in turn, often means that harvests and produce are lost.

The legacy will likely be a desolate landscape, environmental ruin.

Unfortunately, certain products appear sometimes at that bat of an eyelash, and they seem like a great new opportunity. But it's important to take a step back, in such cases; to consider the larger picture so as to avoid repeating mistakes, like what occurred with passion fruit.

Many of our growers were instantly enthralled with passion fruit. But their luck soon ran out because they hadn't properly considered production costs, or analyzed national and international markets. Now the crop is disappearing, as are its promoters, who seem to have vanished!

Hundreds of small and mid-sized passion fruit producers are now in debt with local moneylenders or financial entities, and many are on the verge of losing their properties. All this because crafty promoters arrived from outside to egg them on, before leaving them to their fate once the bonanza flopped.

That, and worse, is precisely what is happening in the north of the Caldas department and other coffee-growing districts, with multinational firms buying land and destroying estates that have in some cases been producing coffee for more than a century.

Are Hass avocados responsible for "coffeecide"? — Photo: Adriana Ornelas Bernal/Wikimedia Commons

Across thee Coffee Axis there has been, in recent years, both enthusiasm for and grave concern over Hass cultivation for exportation. As a product that is taking international markets by storm, there is particular concern that it will all end up in the hands of the big firms, which are busy right now buying and cutting down coffee plots.

But what then happens when the Hass fad ends? The legacy will likely be a desolate landscape, environmental ruin. Not that the multinationals will care. Their only concern is to fill their coffers now before moving on to green pastures, never to return.

I have no idea how far local mayors in the affected regions can act to curb this wholesale massacre of traditional plantations, but at this rate the coffee sanctuary looks set to be wiped out by farmers determined to profit from a passing craze. The price will be the sacrifice of a coffee-growing tradition that is a source of pride to those of who were born and have passed parts of our lives in those lands.

At the very least, one must justifiably ask those launching into avocado farming to do so with due knowledge, and after rigorous studies backed by the relevant association able to guide them the right way. I also think we have every right to ask the avocado multinationals to join the northern Caldas farmers' union, and help forge a clear, joint policy that ensures the best course for all cultivators.

Above all, though, we must defend Colombia's Coffee Cultural Landscape.

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