The globalization of agricultural commodities poses challenges for scholars who may underplay the critical role of human agency and practice in transforming local food systems. In central western Mexico, avocados historically represented a reliable, semi-domesticated fruit-producing tree, found in rural and urban backyards. Known as muy noble, or the noble fruit, avocados could be grown with little attention yet hearty enough to produce fruit. In the 1950s, the pioneros (pioneers) of Uruapan, Michoacán, imported California Hass avocados, replaced local varieties, and dominated Mexico’s domestic market. In the 1970s, a new generation of entrepreneurs established contacts with US avocado companies and mounted a statewide phytosanitary campaign to eliminate pest problems. By the 1990s, Michoacán was poised to enter the US market. In this endeavor, Michoacán avocado growers maintained total control over “their” export market and limited US exports to Michoacán avocados. The region produces over 80% of Mexico’s avocados, with an annual export value of an estimated $2.4 billion; the boom of oro verde, or green gold, had arrived. In so doing, these same entrepreneurs constructed a monopoly that attracted narco cartels, and the multimillion-dollar avocado industry became one of the primary targets for cartels. Initially, local cartel leaders primarily extorted avocado producers and export packing houses. Now, groups have expanded tactics to include daily theft of avocado trucks, kidnappings, assassinations, and armed takeover of orchards, among other practices. This presentation examines the historical journey of the avocado during the period of 1950-2023, from muy noble to oro verde to “blood diamonds,” drawing on historical research and testimonios (testimonials) of local growers. In unpacking this global transformation, the analysis analyzes the critical role of human agency, contradictions between the state and local producers, and unforeseen consequences in globalization.
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