Tracing sugar’s history has been described as ‘Bittersweet’. 80% of the industrialised world’s sweeteners come from sugar-cane. Environmental degradation, slavery and the obesity crisis have all been closely connected with sugar. Sugar was one of the first world-circulating commodities that depended on environmental damage and cheap labour.
Satellites detected 90,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon during the 2019 burning season, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. These fires allowed for large areas of land to be cleared for sugarcane growing. Recently, left over fibres and leaves from sugarcane have been used to produce biofuel ethanol, making sugarcane an even more valuable crop.
This year also saw Brazilian Prime Minister, Jair Bolsonaro’s, rollback of restrictions, allowing the expansion of sugarcane production in the country. Javier Godar, a senior research fellow commented on Bolsonaro’s decision to reverse the decade old environmental protection; “The decision by Bolsonaro seems to be more political and ideological than practical”. Last year deforestation in Brazil reached levels not seen since 2008. The Amazon is a global carbon sink and therefore, the new laissez-faire regulations could potentially accelerate climate breakdown.
Fires in Indigenous territories have continued to increase into August rising by 6%. Christian Poirier, program director of Amazon Watch, commented “They’re out there in the midst of a pandemic still destroying these forests, still invading Indigenous territories with wanton impunity and Indigenous people have less ability to respond.” This is causing devastation for these communities and in the current context of the Coivd19 crisis, horrors like these are being ignored.
Mexican notorious cartels are now fighting over more than just drugs, they are utilising violence in their campaigns for dominance over avocado trade or ‘green gold’. In 2018, the exports of ‘green gold’ were worth $2.4bn. Demand for avocados has soared in the last 10 years due to being marketed as being heathy and containing “good” fats.
They have thus become a staple of the Euro-American middle-class diet. Most avocados from Mexico are exported to the large US market, whereas avocados in UK supermarkets mostly come from Spain, Israel, South Africa, Peru and Chile.
Criminal gangs are clearing large areas of ancient woodland to produce avocados. Avocados demand very specific growing conditions and gallons of water. It has been estimated that two small avocados has a CO2 footprint of 846.36g which is almost twice as much as a kilo of bananas.
Each avocado demands 320 litres of water and therefore, impacts on the water and food security of local communities. Communities in Chile, for example, have been reporting droughts year-after-year as a result of the over-farming of avocados by multinational agricultural organisations on their land.
Fairtrade pioneers Equal Exchange have established a partnership with Pragor, a group of small-scale avocado farmers in Michoacán, Mexico who each own an average of 10 acres of land, all 100% organic. When shopping for an avocado ensure to look out for the fairtrade symbol.