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Study finds Chilean avocados water-efficient and sustainable

Chilean Avocados Final Banner

Chilean avocados stand out for their “efficient and adequate” sustainability and water usage.

That was the main conclusion reached by a study carried out by the Regional Water Center for Arid, Semi-arid Zones in Latin American and the Caribbean (CAZALAC), an organization under the auspices of UNESCO. This is the first analysis with scientific evidence about the avocado crop in this country.

Moreover, CAZALAC determined that Chilean avocados contribute to the compliance of 14 out of 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG); in which “Action for the Weather”, “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, “Responsible Consumption and Production” and “Zero Hunger”, among others, are included.

“Farming activity and food production require the proper use of soils as well as an efficient water management; especially in the middle of a megadrought that has been extended for over 13 years in Chile. This unprecedented study that verifies the geo-environmental situation of Chilean avocados indicates that the production standards of this industry are moving towards a more sustainable and regenerative agriculture”, states José Gabriel Correa, Head of Chilean Avocado Committee, which acted as a facilitator in this study.

Water and drought

Researchers concluded that the broad coverage of the modernized irrigation system among Chilean avocado producers allows to qualify the hydric resource usage as “efficient”; having an estimated consumption of 8,980 m3 of water per hectare in the sample areas; which has a relevance considering the context of drought.

This calculation was added to the one made by the Agricultural Research Institute of Chile (INIA) in 2013; entity that using the Water Footprint Network methodology estimated a hydric footprint of about 427 l/kg of Chilean avocados. Thus, avocado trees were within the average range of water versus other fruit crops, even below of some of the main productions. It is worth mentioning that fruits are food that consume less water compared with cereals, oils, legumes, dried fruits, milk, eggs, meat, and processed food, among others.

Contribution to the ecosystem

One of the most original findings of the report was the positive effects of the surrounding crops, considering the improvement of the soil a well as the interaction with both native flora and fauna. Although when the plantations of avocado trees begin there is a change of the vegetation, the study concluded that in the medium term a new ecosystem is generated with greater vegetable coverage compared with the original, which can contain diversity with a high presence of microfauna, pollinating insects, and native fauna.

In this way, it was verified that the surrounding plantations of the native thicket present high biodiversity with abundance of species, generating a humidity and food support for the animals of the area. Besides, it was confirmed that between 9 to 10 years after plantation, avocado trees can reduce the soil erosion risk to similar values of the native surrounding vegetation, which also increases over the years. It is noted that the work with avocado trees crops last up to 50 years.

Likewise, because of the abovementioned, CAZALAC confirmed a bigger absorption capacity of CO2 in the atmosphere and its later oxygen release by the adult avocado trees in Chile, generating a positive ecological impact that helps counteracting the greenhouse effect in both greater time and space from the native vegetable species – especially in the arid and semiarid areas that have xerophytic formations.

About the study

The research named “Environmental Art state of the Mill American Persea plantations in Chile” was directed by Elir Rojas, geographer and associate investigator in Climate Change and Drought at CAZALAC, along with a team of investigators composed by Carla Salinas, biologist and PhD in desertification and drought; Gabriel Mancilla, forest engineer, PhD in Engineering Sciences and Executive Director at CAZALAC; Sergio Scott, biologist, PhD in molecular biology and ecology; Pablo Rojas, lawyer; and Manuel Soto, forest engineer and Studies Director at CAZALAC.

Due to the geographical distribution of the avocado tree orchards in Chile, located in the central area of the country, a sampling unit in Panquehue, V Region was defined with the aim of gathering representative biogeographical, climate, environmental and social aspects of the 66% of the national production of this fruit. Furthermore, seven other areas (four located in Cabildo and Petorca, one in Quillota and one in Santa Cruz), were randomly chosen, considering their representative characteristics.

As institutional observers participated: CONAF as a “focal point” for Chile and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) along with Wilfredo Alfaro, forest engineer, Master’s in Hydrology.