Feel like you’re overpaying for guacamole? You aren’t imagining things. The average price of a single avocado has risen over the past year from 89 cents to $1.56, according to the Haas Avocado Board.
The reason? Mexican drug cartels. Yes, really. According to a report by Mexico’s attorney general, cartels are using stolen government data to target and extort money from top avocado producers in the country.
The story was first reported in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma and details how criminals stole ministry of agriculture records in the 1990s. They’ve since used them to shake down avocado farmers, and as a result prices have risen to cover the costs.
“This was a system of intelligence that involved reviewing records from the agriculture ministry to know who the farmers with ample avocado production were, where their orchards were located, and how much they reported their sales by export,” says the attorney general’s report.
The practice became a favored method of cartels to diversify incomes beyond the drug trade. And with NAFTA being signed in the ’90s, lifting import restrictions to the U.S., the industry boomed.
Strong demand for avocados in the U.S. continues to make the fruit a cash crop for Mexican farmers. Exports are up 400 percent since 2005, according to the USDA. In 2016 alone, the Mexican avocado industry generated $2.2 billion in profits.
Two Mexican crime outfits began the shakedowns, the Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel and Los Cuinis — a criminal group headed by Abigael Gonzalez Valencia. Other crime syndicates like the Knights Templar and La Familia Michoacána would join in the fight over Mexico’s “green gold.”
In the state of Michoacán, where avocado farming drives the local economy, the Knights Templar cartel has muscled its way to the top. The cartel systematically targets farmers and threaten them with kidnapping and even murder unless they cooperate. According to Mexican authorities, the Templars extort $150 million a year from farmers.
Authorities and farmers are fighting back, however, and since 2013 armed militias have driven out the cartels from some areas of the country.
About 82 percent of the avocados Americans eat come from Mexico, and the rest are farmed in California, according to a report by Bloomberg.
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