Getting a cut of Mexico’s “green gold” helps criminals rake in millions

A cartel in Mexico is shaking down avocado producers
Credit: Photo via Getty Images

With their price fluctuations and high level of demand, avocados aren’t that much different from any other popular commodity on the market—legal or otherwise. As if to further underscore that point, a new report reveals how some of Mexico’s notoriously violent cartels used some insider info to worm their way into the lucrative avocado market.

According to Mexican daily newspaper Reforma, many of Mexico’s cartels made illicit use of farming records obtained from SAGARPA (the country’s agricultural ministry) to track down and extort avocado farmers as far back as the 1990s. Following the formula of the typical “protection” racket that anyone who’s seen a mob movie would recognize, the cartels insisted that farmers give them a percentage of their proceeds in exchange for, you know, not getting kidnapped. Reforma says that leveraging agricultural data allowed the cartels to identify “who the farmers with ample avocado production were, where their orchards were located, and how much they reported their sales by export.”

The practice has caught on since Cartél Jalisco Nueva Generación first made an effort to diversify their “portfolio,” and trade deregulation helped to make these sorts of shakedowns even more profitable. The North American Free Trade Agreement opened up the US market to avocados from Mexico in the mid-90s, and the profits to be reaped from preying on farmers increased as exports rose. With the US now importing nearly two billion pounds of avocados each year, there’s more profit to be derived from getting a cut of the “green gold” in avocado producing regions like Michoacán than ever.

Based on a reported “market” rate of $100 per hectare and 10 cents per pound of avocados sold, authorities estimate that cartels like Los Caballeros Templarios (The Knights Templar) rake in as much as $150 million per year. While there’s been some progress in driving cartels from the region, reports out of Michoacán indicate that these protection rackets still persist.

So next time you sit down to enjoy some avocado toast, just know there’s a chance you’re at least indirectly contributing to the exploitation of Mexican farmers at the hands of ruthless organized criminals. That’s not to mention global warming, too. Now that’s a real reason for some avocado anxiety.