Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. It affects every aspect of our lives, from our health and well-being to our food security and biodiversity. One of the main drivers of climate change is the increase of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). These gases trap heat and warm up the planet, causing changes in weather patterns, sea level rise, melting glaciers, and more. One of the ways to mitigate climate change is to reduce GHG emissions from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and unsustainable agriculture. Another way is to enhance the natural sinks of carbon, such as forests, grasslands, and oceans. These sinks absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in biomass or soil, thus reducing its concentration and slowing down global warming.
Among the natural sinks of carbon, fruit crops have a significant potential to capture, store, and utilize carbon through their growth and development. According to a recent review article by Sharma et al. (2021), fruit orchards and vineyards have great structural characteristics that allow them to accumulate a large amount of carbon in their above-ground biomass (AGB) and below-ground biomass (BGB). These include long life cycle, permanent organs such as trunk, branches, and roots, null soil tillage (preserving soil organic matter), high quality and yield.
How Avocados are involved in climate change?
One of the fruit crops that stands out for its carbon sequestration capacity is the avocado. Avocados are a tropical and subtropical evergreen tree that belongs to the Lauraceae family. It is implied to have originated in Central America and Mexico, but it is now cultivated in many regions of the world, such as South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Oceania. Avocados have a high demand and value in the global market due to its nutritional and health benefits. They are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. According to a document by California Avocado Commission (2021), a one-acre avocado grove can sequester up to 2.6 tonnes of CO2 per year. This means that Californian avocado groves help renew their communities’ air supply and keep it fresh. However, not all avocado growing areas have the same carbon sequestration potential. This may depend on several factors, such as climate conditions, soil type, management practices, variety selection, pest and disease control, irrigation system, fertilization regime, pruning intensity, harvesting method, etc. Therefore, it is important to measure and monitor the carbon footprint of different avocado production systems and compare their environmental impacts.
One way to do this is to use life cycle assessment (LCA), a method that evaluates the environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its life cycle stages: from raw material extraction to final disposal or recycling. LCA can help identify the hotspots of GHG emissions and carbon sequestration along the avocado supply chain: from farm to fork. A study compared the carbon footprint of avocado production systems in Spain and Chile. They found that Chilean production had a higher carbon footprint than Spanish production due to higher inputs of water, energy, fertilizers, pesticides, and transportation. However, they also found that both systems had a positive net carbon balance due to the carbon sequestration capacity of avocado trees compared to other fruit crops. These studies show that there is a trade-off between carbon sequestration and carbon emissions in the avocado production systems. Therefore, it is necessary to find a balance between maximizing the carbon sink function of avocado trees and minimizing the carbon source function of inputs and outputs.
How do you measure the impact?
One way to achieve this balance is to implement traceability systems in the avocado industry. Traceability is the ability to track and verify the origin, history, location, and quality of a product or service. This can help improve the transparency, accountability, and sustainability within the avocado supply chain. It will help consumers make informed choices based on environmental and social criteria. One Million Avocados is building a traceability system to help monitor the carbon footprint of each avocado production unit and certify its compliance with specific standards or labels, such as organic, fair trade, carbon neutral, etc. The traceability system verifies the origin and quality of each avocado batch to prevent fraud, adulteration, or contamination. Our traceability system will help promote the development of new markets and opportunities for avocado producers, especially in the growing countries across in East Africa and aims to have a positive impact on climate change mitigation and adaptation, as well as on poverty reduction and food security.
Planting one million avocado trees across East Africa could sequester millions of tonnes of CO2 over the years. This could help offset the emissions of thousands cars, households and industries. Planting avocado trees across East Africa will also generate millions per year in income for smallholder farmers and create jobs for rural youth and women. Planting these trees sustainably will result in improved soil health, water availability, biodiversity conservation, and nutrition security. However, there are some challenges and risks involved, such as land use change, water scarcity, pest and disease outbreaks, market fluctuations, etc. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the avocado expansion is done in a sustainable and inclusive way that will respect the rights and needs of local communities and ecosystems.
In conclusion, avocado trees have a significant impact on climate change due to their high capacity to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and store it in biomass or soil. However, this impact varies depending on the location, management, and type of avocado production system. Therefore, it is important to measure and monitor the carbon footprint of different avocado production systems and compare their environmental impacts using life cycle assessment. It is also important to implement traceability systems in the avocado industry to improve the transparency, accountability, and sustainability of the avocado supply chain. Traceability systems will help promote the development of new markets and opportunities for avocado producers, especially in East Africa.