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Who is left behind in global food systems? Local farmers failed by Colombia’s avocado boom

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Work on global food systems has focused on the livelihoods of farmers directly affected as growers of agricultural export goods and has paid less attention to those who are left behind by new patterns of production and consumption. The connections between pre-existing agricultural livelihoods and the new systems of provision associated with fashionable products are poorly understood. Global trends in food culture have wide ranging local impacts. In this paper, we argue that researchers need to look beyond linear commodity chains and the goods that travel from producers in one country to consumers in another and expand global food systems analysis to understand what regional livelihoods are modified or displaced by globalized agriculture. Avocados are a popular health food among millennials. Colombia is experiencing a boom in exports. Avocados have long been grown in the Santander region, but global demand has turned them into a politically important crop. Using food systems analysis, our field research illuminates how new opportunities for capital accumulation are transmitted through global markets and shape regional agricultural practices. Large investors have profited, while small-scale farmers have been impoverished. We demonstrate how the interplay of requirements for homogenous fruit from local supermarkets, demand for the export Haas variety, as well as the government’s export-oriented policies have modified local livelihoods.Our contribution examines the broader social space in which agriculture is located. We argue for the need to study food systems beyond the vertical relations that constitute linear supply chains and examine the horizontal context of systems of provision.
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Article
Nature and Space
Who is left behind in global
food systems? Local farmers
failed by Colombia’s avocado
boom
Angela Serrano
University of Wisconsin Madison, USA
Andrew Brooks
King’s College London, UK
Abstract
Work on global food systems has focused on the livelihoods of farmers directly affected as
growers of agricultural export goods and has paid less attention to those who are left behind
by new patterns of production and consumption. The connections between pre-existing
agricultural livelihoods and the new systems of provision associated with fashionable products
are poorly understood. Global trends in food culture have wide ranging local impacts. In this
paper, we argue that researchers need to look beyond linear commodity chains and the
goods that travel from producers in one country to consumers in another and expand global
food systems analysis to understand what regional livelihoods are modified or displaced by
globalized agriculture. Avocados are a popular health food among millennials. Colombia is
experiencing a boom in exports. Avocados have long been grown in the Santander region, but
global demand has turned them into a politically important crop. Using food systems analysis, our
field research illuminates how new opportunities for capital accumulation are transmitted through
global markets and shape regional agricultural practices. Large investors have profited, while small-
scale farmers have been impoverished. We demonstrate how the interplay of requirements for
homogenous fruit from local supermarkets, demand for the export Haas variety, as well as the
government’s export-oriented policies have modified local livelihoods.Our contribution examines
the broader social space in which agriculture is located. We argue for the need to study food
systems beyond the vertical relations that constitute linear supply chains and examine the
horizontal context of systems of provision.
Keywords
Agriculture, avocados, Colombia, systems of provision, food systems, production
Corresponding author:
Angela Serrano, University of Wisconsin Madison, 8128 William H. Sewell Social Sciences Building, 1180 Observatory
Drive, Madison, WI 53706, USA.
Email: serranozapat@wisc.edu
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DOI: 10.1177/2514848619838195
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Introduction
Commodity chains research, and related approaches, have effectively mapped connections
between production and consumption and interrogated how different forms of labour are
entangled in the global economy (Henderson et al., 2002). Vertical lines of connectivity have
been drawn between farmers and other producers, often in the global South, and companies
that market food products that reach the plates of consumers, primarily in the global
North (Goodman and Dupuis, 2002). In particular, this work has looked at various
booms in newly fashionable goods, including French beans (Freidberg, 2004), papayas
(Cook, 2004), and bottled water (Jones et al., 2017) and contested the ethical production
of items such as Fairtrade bananas (Wilson and Jackson, 2016), wine (Kleine, 2008), and
organic coffee (Mutersbaugh, 2002). Here we build upon this body of work, but look at what
farm to shelf research has missed. We focus on the wider horizontal impacts of food systems
on the production regions where they are situated and turn our attention to the pre-existing
agricultural practices and livelihoods modified or displaced as regions are reoriented towards
the global market. Studies of agricultural booms have ably identified the transnational
impacts of consumer demand on those directly affected as producers, but have overlooked
those who are left behind. New global production affects political dynamics, displaces old
agriculture and disrupts regional socio-economic practices. By focusing on the pre-existing
livelihoods threatened by the integration of agricultural regions in to global commodity
chains, rather than the workers and socio-natures that are directly exploited, our field
work on avocado agriculture in Colombia demonstrates that consumption booms can fail
traditional growers of newly desirable products. Global agriculture and food trends have
wider impacts that deserve further attention.
Rich, creamy and nutritious avocados are a very fashionable food. The fruit is favoured
for its unique health benefits including ‘good fats’ (Frank and Clegg, 2017; Hass Avocado
Board, 2016a). Avocados have come to symbolize conspicuous consumption among cash-
rich millennials – people born between 1983 and 2000 – across Australia, Europe, and North
America (Bellet and Sihra, 2017). These fruits are reified on social media and are a relatively
costly, yet nutritious, convenient food. Asia is a growing market and Steve Barnard,
president of Mission Produce, the world’s largest avocado distributor, claims demand in
China from middle class ‘young, trendy people’ for this ‘heart-healthy’ fruit ‘appears to just
double every year’ (quoted in Daniels, 2018: 2–3). Smashed avocado is as popular in the
cafes of Bogota as it is in Brussels, Boston, or Beijing. Colombia has long been a major
producer of avocados for domestic consumption, but has the potential to become one of the
world’s largest exporters (PTP and LKS, 2013). Rising demand from China, the US, and
Europe is driving international trade. Global wholesale prices surged by 50% in 2017 and
appetite for the fruit shows no sign of abating as growers and retailers struggle to maintain
supplies (Butler and Jones, 2017). Colombian exports grew exponentially from an average of
5401 (US$) per year between 1997 and 2007 to over 52 million (US$) in 2017 (see Figure 1).
The Colombian government is actively promoting avocado exports and their policies are
shaping agricultural practices. In the north east region of Santander, new farming patterns
are changing relationships between the state, agricultural capital, and smallholders. Here we
ask how is the global avocado boom transforming the livelihoods of pre-existing Colombian
farmers? Although most Santander farmers only produce for the domestic market they
have still been affected by the national government’s export initiative. The international
demand for avocados has spill over effects on broader local economies outside of global
commodity chains. We unravel how and why government officials and agricultural extension
agents promote adherence to the requirements of consumers in Europe and the United States
even though small farmers are not capable of exporting avocados and are being at best
2Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
left behind by the boom and at worst marginalized by the changing global political economy
of avocados.
We take a food systems approach to investigate both the chains of activities that interlink
production and consumption and the social context in which they are located. To explain the
food system we need to understand the material and cultural specificities that bring together
production, distribution, and trade, as well as the consumption patterns that emerge through
a whole web of relationships and transactions (Benson and Fischer, 2007; Freidberg, 2004;
Galt, 2014; Mutersbaugh, 2002). We also draw from work analysing how agricultural
livelihoods are affected by changing relations in food production and consumption (Fine,
2002; Friedland, 1984). Santander’s pre-existing avocado farmers’ choices are further
enabled and constrained by other local and international actors; this includes the broader
effect of changes to the political economy of agriculture and state policy efforts at the
horizontal level. Our discussion of avocados is limited by the methodological challenges
of investigating international trade (Hulme, 2016). We investigate the supply region rather
than the emergence of consumer demand in China, Europe, and North America. Work by
Marsden and other food scholars has established how government policies, consumer
movements, and major supermarkets produced retail-led food supply networks for
tropical fruits in global marketplaces (Flynn et al., 2000; Marsden et al., 2000).
The article proceeds with a literature review which explores approaches for mapping
agricultural systems, followed by some notes on methodology and the Colombian case
study. ‘The avocado food system in Colombia’ section provides an overview of Latin
American agriculture, a general description of the avocado food system, and a discussion
of how increasing global demand for avocados, mediated by the export goals of the
Colombian government, shapes livelihood opportunities. Next, in the ‘Experiencing the
avocado system’ section, the experience of various farmers illustrates their different
positions within a food system. Finally, the conclusion highlights how a newly fashionable
food is being grown in a context that produces relationships which marginalize livelihood
opportunities for local pre-existing farmers, rather than providing opportunities for them to
-
10,000,000
20,000,000
30,000,000
40,000,000
50,000,000
60,000,000
2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Trade Value (US$)
Figure 1. Colombian Avocado exports 2008–2017 (UN COMTRADE, 2019).
Serrano and Brooks 3
benefit from global trade boom. We argue that commodity studies need to pay greater
attention to the livelihoods displaced by production for globalized markets.
Tracing global connections in food systems
The relations between producers and consumers in international food supply chains are
often distant and anonymous, making them difficult to map (Hinrichs, 2003). Food
systems frameworks were proposed to describe the stages through which an agricultural
commodity is transformed and acquires value, rather than forensically charting
transactions (Dixon, 1999). Friedland (1984), Fine (2002), and other authors have
challenged us to think of commodities as objects with a social as well as a physical
presence, immersed in cultural and historical contexts. This is important as the relations
between food production and consumption relate to how decisions or changes at one point
of a food system can affect other actors and environments in distant places. In this section,
we review important transformations in the conceptualization of global relations in food
systems and highlight the need to pay deeper attention to the farmers whose livelihoods are
left behind by booms, or rapid transformations of consumption trends, in these systems.
Two landmark interventions in the study of the relations between food production and
consumption are Friedland’s (1984, 2001) commodity systems analysis and Fine’s (1994)
systems of provision (SOP). Interested in how technology, legislation, and other aspects of
the social and political environment of food systems were rapidly transforming labour and
production conditions in agriculture after the 1970s, Friedland (2001) proposed a
commodity chain analysis methodology to identify how changes outside agriculture shape
social relations within farming. Such analysis considers the political economy of the links
between production and consumption, particularly in terms of production practices,
characteristics of the labour market, producers’ organizations, application of science,
marketing and distribution, and the role of the state. Working with co-authors, Friedland
et al. (1981) and Friedland and Barton (1975) researched the lettuce and tomato industries in
the 1970s in the US, showing the consequences of agricultural mechanization on growers,
worker displacement, and shifts from male to female labour. Friedland’s studies represent an
important contribution highlighting the many factors and relations shaping farming in the
context of increasingly globalized food systems. Fine’s SOP approach also studies the
connections between production and consumption of food, but without placing a special
focus on agriculture. Instead, he calls attention to the dynamic interplay of factors along
commodity chains, including agriculture, but also banking, retail, and consumption
preferences (Fine, 1994: 520). This approach combines two perspectives: first, it traverses
the vertical commodity chains, the relationships between different companies and individuals
associated with the trade of a particular commodity and second examines the horizontal
context, that being the social and historical environment in which food production and
consumption are situated (Fine, 2002). Fine et al. (1996) traced the history of British sugar
consumption which is connected to changing patterns of sugar cane and sugar beet production.
The former was shaped by the geographies of British colonialism in the Caribbean, and the
latter by the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, alongside other historical and
political factors outside the immediate domain of sugar supply chains (Mintz, 1985). The SOP
approach emphasizes the importance of studying not only the relations between actors along
food supply chains but also the social and historical environment in which those relations are
situated, yet this wider awareness of the regional impacts has been overlooked in many recent
studies of global food production that have reified the production of high-value food
commodities for northern consumers.
4Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
Parallel to developments in the study of global networks around food systems,
Global Value Chains (GVCs), Global Production Networks (GPNs), and ‘follow the
thing’ approaches developed as tools for understanding links between production and
consumption both in food and non-food sectors (Gereffi, 1994; Hess and Coe, 2006).
GVC and GPN approaches have examined how particular firms capture profit by
controlling nodes in commodity networks and which actors have the power to define the
price and characteristics of a product (McGrath, 2013). In agricultural research, GVC
analysis has been used to trace the displacement of smallholder agriculture in Ghana due
to the changes in European consumers’ preferences for a new pineapple variety (Fold and
Gough, 2008). The GPN approach has served to analyse the role of government policies. For
instance, McGrath (2013) shows that the Brazilian state actively reproduces exploitative
labour conditions in the sugar cane industry in order to meet the demands of
international buyers. Cook (2004) uses the multi-sited ethnographic ‘follow the thing’
approach to map the economic biography of a single papaya as he follows the fruit from
a farm in Jamaica to London. By narrating not only economic transactions, but also
personal stories, Cook et al. (2006) are able to expose meanings and social relations in
global trade. Yet there are limits to this method as the conditions for trade depend upon
historical relations that exceed the links that can be mapped by tracing the journey of a
single fruit from field to fork. The focus of these approaches on power relations between
different actors in global networks and the value of the personal stories from people
experiencing these networks has influenced the scholarship on food systems. Building on
the work of Friedland, Fine, and other developments in the study of global networks, food
systems scholars have sought to conceptualize relevant relations in food systems in
increasingly comprehensive ways. Goodman and Dupuis (2002) make a call to link
political economy production-centred analyses with cultural approaches to consumption.
The authors claim that in order to bridge the divide it is necessary to consider the interaction
between knowledge and material practices along the different places of food production and
consumption. This type of analysis reveals that the meanings, desires, and cultural norms in
conjunction with the physical and nutritional qualities of food shape the popularity of a
product (Benson and Fischer, 2007; Dixon, 2002; Dupuis, 2002; Freidberg, 2004). Freidberg
(2004), for instance, studies two chains of vegetable trade between Africa and Europe, and
shows how demands for homogenous food from consumers in Britain and France have
created new forms of domination as supermarkets place strict quality demands upon
smallholders in the former colonies of Zambia and Burkina Faso. The possibility to
institute those requirements is associated with both emotions and biophysical processes,
including fear of food poisoning from consumers in Europe and economic insecurities of
small-scale farmers in Africa. Benson and Fischer (2007) show how US consumers’ desires
for healthy broccoli offer export opportunities for farmers in Guatemala that fulfil their
livelihood needs and desires for a modern life, while also transferring risk to them. These
approaches signal an increased interest on consumers and the cultural and political contexts
where food systems are embedded. Recent scholarship has further focused on how consumer
values are fuelling change along food systems. Millennial interests in health, lifestyle,
sustainability, and ethical standards have promoted the emergence of alternative food
networks, particularly around organic food and fair trade. However, these concerns may
lead to different outcomes along food systems. A growing scholarship on food justice
highlights how alternative networks share many characteristics of the industrial global
food supply, represent the values of white middle and upper classes, and marginalize
minorities (Alkon and Agyeman, 2011; Guthman, 2014). Trauger (2015) and Wilson and
Jackson (2016) study the consequences of fair trade bananas for producers in the Caribbean
Serrano and Brooks 5
and suggest that fair trade schemes impose the values of consumers and companies in the
global North over Caribbean workers and producers, in many cases leading to a
deterioration in working conditions in producing regions. The ethical concerns of
consumers in wealthy countries can aggravate the livelihoods of farmers in the global South.
Other scholars have emphasized the role of the policy environment around food chains as
governments and other organizations play key roles mediating relations between different actors.
For instance, Mutersbaugh (2002) and Galt (2014) point out how the regulatory environment
significantly shapes the distribution of costs and benefits in food systems. Mutersbaugh (2002)
studies the effects of coffee certifications, finding that they create onerous new costs that rest
unequally on small growers and producer organizations. Galt (2014) finds that different
conditions such as the biophysical environment, governance structures, market signals, and
extra-economic regulations in domestic and export markets determine pesticide use and shape
how agrochemical companies and banks can capture larger shares of value from farming
activities, at the expense of the health and economic conditions of farmers and farmworkers.
Galt (2012) also reveals how approaches to protection from pesticides based on prescriptive
‘rational’ expectations about farmers’ knowledge and behaviour ignore the conditions shaping
farmers’ pesticide use and fail to afford adequate protection. These studies expose how policies
and certifications shape not only conditions of exchange, but also environmental and health risks
and decision-making power for workers and other growers.
Studies on global relations in food systems trace the connections between food production
and consumption and have progressively paid more attention to other relevant aspects beyond
those linear connections. These aspects include the role of cultural norms (Benson and Fischer,
2007; Freidberg, 2004), the organic or biophysical conditions of food and its environment
(Freidberg, 2004, 2009; Galt, 2014), the consequences of consumers’ ethical concerns for
producers (Guthman, 2014; Trauger, 2015; Wilson and Jackson, 2016), and the role of
broader institutions shaping the relations beyond linear commodity chains (Galt, 2012;
Mutersbaugh, 2005). In the present study, we follow a comparable food systems approach
and traverse part of the avocado system in Colombia to understand what type of agricultural
practices and livelihoods are being developed. We go beyond linear relations between
consumers and producers to investigate the effects of changing consumption trends on
traditional avocado farmers who cannot satisfy demand for a trending avocado variety and
are left behind in a context of increasing opportunities for wealthier growers. Analysing the
impacts of the avocado consumption boom requires documenting the relations that take fruits
from the tree to the table, but, more importantly, an understanding of why these relations
happen in the first place and how the effects of these relationships are transmitted for different
producers. In practice, this entails examining the material processes that make the provision of
avocados possible and interpreting the processes that create value in avocados. As we discuss
below, the material properties of the different avocado varieties grown in Colombia affect
consumption patterns as well as agricultural production. At the same time, consumer
preferences for certain varieties and product qualities, in conjunction with the priority
assigned to export-oriented policies by the government, have transformed livelihood and
business opportunities for producers. Yet not only have they changed practices for export-
oriented farmers, but they have also changed the livelihoods of small-scale farmers who only
produce for a pre-existing domestic market.
Researching avocado agriculture in Colombia
Inequalities in agriculture have increased in Colombia in the past decades and led to violent
conflicts over land (Richani, 2013; Thomson, 2011). Our field research was undertaken in
6Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
Santander, traditionally one of the largest avocado-producing regions, which in the past
decade has lost comparative importance in avocado production (PTP and LKS, 2013). A
region in flux shows how both livelihood possibilities change under evolving market
conditions and reflect how different types of agricultural practices prevail. Through our
analysis, the changing circumstances of farmers in Santander are linked to global avocado
consumption, as they are mediated by the state, and national and international trade.
The economy of Santander relies mainly on manufacturing (DANE, 2015a).
Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander, is an affluent city; however, rural areas are
significantly deprived, and inequality persists. Twenty per cent of people are below the
poverty line, and extreme poverty has risen in recent years (DANE, 2015b). Our research
was mostly conducted in the neighbouring municipalities of San Vicente de Chucurı
´and El
Carmen de Chucurı
´, an important avocado-producing area with very good land quality, but
limited road access (PTP and LKS, 2013). Farms vary in size, with the largest (more than
400 hectares) on the main road to Bucaramanga and the smallest ones (less than 4 hectares)
located near hard-to-access tracks. Before producing avocados, San Vicente and El Carmen
focused on coffee, first, and cocoa, later. Avocado trees were initially used to give shade for
other crops, and then their fruit became an important crop. Most avocado farmers in this
region have grown this crop for decades.
Interviews were used as the primary methodology and focused on the experience of each
actor within the food system and their relations with other actors. The purpose was to use an
in-depth and open-ended approach to the dynamics of the avocado sector and, most
importantly, to explore how these dynamics shaped the everyday life of research
participants. Most interviews were at interviewees’ workplaces. As a consequence, we
were able to learn not only from their verbal answers, but also from observations of
farms, warehouses, and other sites. A total of 27 interviews were conducted by a native
Spanish speaker. Most interviews involved avocado farmers, but some included traders and
people who implement government agricultural policies. Interviews were complemented by a
secondary review of formal documents and official statistics on avocado production and
trade (e.g. CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2013; DANE, 2014; PTP and LKS, 2013). These
constitute official sources of textual data where it is possible to see some of the ways in which
policymakers and practitioners are shaping the avocado system.
The avocado food system in Colombia
In this section, we first provide a brief overview of Latin America’s historical role in global
food systems. Second, we discuss the millennial boom in avocado consumption. Next, we
sketch the overall context of Colombian avocado farming and the state’s export plans.
Finally, we map the international and domestic supply networks.
Latin America has long played a crucial role in producing agricultural resources to meet
global demands, especially tropical colonial products such as rubber, sugar, and bananas
(Bucheli, 2005; Frank and Musacchio, 2006; Mintz, 1985). More recently perishable crops
including berries, cut flowers, and kiwifruit have been produced for export, facilitated by
improvements in transport infrastructure (Challies and Murray, 2011). These are the types of
exotic products particularly popular among millennials (Saulo, 2016). During the last
decades, several Latin American governments have encouraged export-oriented models of
large-scale agriculture that can potentially deliver higher crop yields by incorporating more
efficient biotechnologies. Greater investment has come from transnational corporations,
local capitalists, and international lending and aid organizations (Renfrew, 2011).
The agricultural policies of many Latin American states have focused on promoting
Serrano and Brooks 7
opportunities for investors over creating livelihood possibilities for farmers or controlling
the environmental impacts of production (McGrath, 2013). Avocados have recently been
championed by Latin American states who have capitalized on a booming international
market. Between 2004 and 2014 the international avocado trade almost tripled
(FAOSTAT, 2014). In the United States and Europe, consumption increased by more
than 40% between 2010 and 2015, while in China it grew by an incredible 126,000% over
the same period (CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2015; Ferdman, 2015; HSBC, 2015).
International marketing campaigns and dietary guidelines have encouraged consumers to
eat more avocados. Medical studies of the health benefits funded by trade groups have
further catalysed consumer interest (Hass Avocado Board, 2016a, 2016b; Khazan, 2015;
Wang et al., 2015). Promotional activities are specifically associated with the Hass variety.
The ‘Love one todayÕ’ campaign popularizes a very particular idea about the size and shape
of an avocado and encourages consumers to share their avocado images on social media with
the hashtag #loveonetoday (Hass Avocado Board, 2016a). Digital technologies facilitate
searches about food and eating practices, although the effects can be difficult to map
(Lupton, 2017). Only 2,062 posts on Instagram have used the #loveonetoday hashtag and,
in comparison, a search for #avocado returned 8,297,431 posts.
1
This suggests that the
popularity of avocados is more associated with individual choice. But #loveonetoday is
just one market intervention, the cumulative effect of a wide suite of advertising, as well
as social media activities, endorsements, new recipes, menus, promotions, and retail offers
has led consumers to gravitate towards collective positions and popularized avocado
consumption (Saulo, 2016). Moreover, the type of avocado consumption that is popular
mirrors the objectives of the formal Hass campaign.
A reoccurring motivation for avocado consumption discussed across diverse media is the
health benefits and nutritional content and their position in a particular diet and associated
lifestyle. The Hass Avocado Board (2016b) describes eating avocados as ‘a way of life,
a delicious way of life’ (11). Only the small and durable Hass avocados can fulfil the
lifestyle promises, so increasing demand is coupled with very specific requirements.
Purchase decisions are mainly influenced by the physical conditions of avocados: they
must be the right size, have bright skin, and be flawless fruits (Gamble et al., 2010; Hass
Avocado Board, 2016a; Restrepo, 2014).
Opportunities for avocado farmers are restricted by multiple factors, in addition to the
appearance of the fruit. Avocado consumption, trading requirements, and production
conditions have shaped each other, creating and transforming the political economy of
production regions. A small-scale farmer who sells in the domestic market is realistically
unable to sell avocados abroad. Global avocado food systems are composed of distinct roles
for different actors who face significant barriers to perform other activities (Henderson et al.,
2002). In order for Colombian avocados to be traded internationally, they must be
accredited for good agricultural practices, and have phytosanitary certification, export
authorization, and chemical test results, all issued by Colombian authorities, as well as an
international certification of good agricultural practices from the GlobalG.A.P. certification
body (CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2013; ICA, n.d.).
The majority of global avocado exports originate in Mexico, Chile, Peru, Spain, and
South Africa and the major importers are the United States, the Netherlands, France,
Japan, and the United Kingdom (FAOSTAT, 2012; PTP and LKS, 2013). The United
States, the largest importer, represents an attractive market for avocado producers,
especially for those in nearby Latin America (FAOSTAT, 2012; Vanguardia Liberal,
2015). Import regulations are restrictive and Colombian avocados only recently gained
access to the United States. In the case of the United Kingdom, France, and other
8Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
European countries, avocado imports come from more than 40 countries (International
Trade Center, 2015). However, export opportunities are still highly restricted, and any
avocado found on the shelf in Europe did not arrive there by chance. It was most likely
intended to reach that part of the world ever since the tree was planted.
Hass avocados predominate in the markets of the global North because they can survive
inter-continental shipment and meet the requirements of traders, retailers and, ultimately,
the cultural norms expected by consumers (Restrepo, 2014). Hass avocados are only grown
starting at 1500 metres above sea level (green and native varieties can be grown at lower
elevations). They are well suited to export because they have a thick shell preventing damage
and can take more than two weeks to ripen, which enables them to be transported by trucks
and boats from farms in Colombia to Europe (Bernal et al., 2008; Restrepo, 2014). These
attributes are important, as retailers demand fruits in perfect and homogenous conditions,
ideally in the same volume and quality. Moreover, international buyers commonly only pay
for an order after they have received it (Restrepo, 2014). So, producers must be able to afford
the costs of growing and delivering avocados, while their payment arrives two to six weeks
after dispatch. Therefore, only growers with the capacity to afford the financial outlay,
located in areas suitable for Hass avocado, which produce sufficient yields, and implement
the required managerial practices, are able to benefit from the opportunities presented by
European and other overseas markets.
The Colombian government is trying to promote avocado exports. As Juan Manuel
Santos, Colombia’s former president, explained ‘We managed to open the market for
Colombian avocados, which is a golden opportunity for thousands and thousands of
farmers and trade in general’ (Caracol Radio, 2017). The National Avocado Council, an
advisory body to the government, is focused on supporting groups of avocado producers to
jointly build the infrastructure and pay for the certifications required for export. To comply
with the international requirements production must follow specific technical practices.
Trade links determine the portion of value that each actor can capture (Gereffi and
Karina, 2011). Every kilo of avocados exported from Colombia is sold on international
markets for an average of 2.2 US dollars (FAOSTAT, 2012). In sharp contrast, the
average price paid to Colombian producers (including those selling for national and
international markets) is 0.57 dollars per kilo (DANE, 2014), although this average
conceals disparities. Some interviewees claimed to receive 0.33 dollars per kilo, while
others reported prices around 1.85 dollars per kilo. Despite the differences, averages
illustrate the contrast between the opportunities in domestic and international markets.
The state is actively transforming the system. Government policies emphasize that
Colombia must export avocados and farmers must adopt new production practices
to satisfy international markets. One of the main policies is the Ministry of Trade’s
Productive Transformation Program (PTP), which ‘seeks the internationalization of the
Colombian economy through the modernization and transformation of the productive
apparatus’ (PTP and LKS, 2013). The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development
(MADR, Spanish abbreviation) and the horticulture trade group, Asohofrucol (which
manages the national horticultural fund, assigned by the MADR), have focused on
transforming avocado farming, among other crops, prioritising: ‘the standardization of
production quality, market expansion and consolidation, fruit transformation and
industrialization’ (MADR, 2009: 7). According to Asohofrucol (2012), it has provided
technical assistance to over 15,000 fruit and vegetable farmers, including teaching
planting techniques, how to handle crop pests, and business practices. Additionally,
avocado is one of the prioritized products for Colombia Siembra, a policy designed to
increase the supply of agricultural products and promote exports by giving credit
Serrano and Brooks 9
subsidies for new crops (MADR, 2015, 2016). Between 2011 and 2016 the planted area of
avocado in Colombia grew from 35,211 to 66,921 hectares (DANE, 2016). In the same
period, exports have increased, and domestic prices have been relatively stable (DANE,
2018; UN COMTRADE, 2019).
Government-sponsored programmes are increasing avocado productivity and
standardization to meet the requirements for international trade. As the GPN approach
(Henderson et al., 2002) suggests, actors beyond the firms that compose the avocado
production network are actively shaping how this fruit is produced. But, more
importantly, the relations described show the inseparable links between consumption and
production activities. As highlighted in SOP research, this includes the vertical relations
between avocado producers, traders, retailers, and consumers which determine the
distribution of value along the avocado commodity chain, as well as the wider, horizontal,
political economy context of the Colombian government’s efforts to diversify agricultural
exports and boost national income (Fine, 1994). In this case, it is possible to see how
consumption preferences and trade requirements literally shape avocados. Crops are
affected by environmental circumstances; seasonal yields vary and fruits of different sizes,
weights, and appearances grow. But in order to produce homogenous Hass fruits with bright
surfaces and equal weight it is necessary to implement highly controlled production
techniques and produce a new rural environment. However, these technologies are not
available to everyone.
Colombia has a big domestic market for avocados and receives imports from
neighbouring countries. Indistinguishable fruits from Ecuador and Venezuela, including
the popular green varieties, are sold alongside domestic avocados. While demanding a
broader range of varieties, large supermarket chains in Colombia require similar quality
standards and regular supplies as international buyers. Supermarkets often withhold
payment for weeks and only buy standardized fruits from well-capitalized producers. In
other words, these commercial relations are shaped by buyer-driven power (Kleine, 2008).
Similarly, wholesalers often pay their suppliers after selling an order. In wholesale centres
transactions are frequently informal and depend on trust between people with established
business relations. Only suppliers with a regular stock of products can build strong relations
and direct sales are mainly restricted to large producers or itinerant traders, as discussed
below. Wholesale clients are relatively diverse and include street vendors, restaurants,
supermarkets, other marketplaces and, frequently, even their own suppliers, as suppliers
may buy other fruits to sell elsewhere. Payment conditions are highly dependent on each
client, but the most influential is demand credit. For wholesalers to maintain their clients,
they need to offer a constant supply that meets the conditions demanded by large clients.
Other important actors in this system are itinerant traders, or cacharreros. They drive
around agricultural regions and buy produce to supply wholesale centres. Areas with poor
access are usually served by one single trader and farmers in those regions have little
bargaining power (Galt, 2012). Cacharreros usually buy products of varied qualities and
pay in cash but pay low and variable prices. Low payments and unstable trading conditions
mainly affect the smaller farmers whose harvests are insufficient to cover the costs of taking
their products to other markets. Cacharreros need to have the financial capacity to afford to
pay producers upfront and to sell to wholesalers on credit and are literally the main drivers
connecting the places of production and consumption. Connections between farming and
retail vary (see Figure 2). Some farmers are able to gain higher profits by avoiding
intermediary traders, including producers who sell directly to shops, restaurants, or
consumers and farmers grouped into producer associations, which can build relations
with commercial clients (Fine and Leopold, 1993).
10 Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
Experiencing the avocado system
Some of the most crucial actors in charge of promoting the ‘technicalization’ required to
produce fruits that can meet export requirements are Asohofrucol agricultural extension
agents. Two of them working in Santander explained that technicalization involves using
certified seeds, having a fertilization plan, renovating trees (cutting old ones down and
planting or grafting new ones), and monocropping. As the Asohofrucol regional
coordinator for Santander discussed, ‘avocado crops are to be handled alone. That idea
of mixing so many trees does not work’ (J.P. Salamanca 2015, Interview, 10 June).
Asohofrucol offers field trainings to engage associations of producers interested in
learning these techniques, where extension agents teach cropping and business practices.
The training closes with a practical test to select the best producers for further assistance
on production, marketing, and business support.
The prescriptions offered by Asohofrucol are supposed to increase fruit production and
minimize losses, but there is a perception that farmers fail to see the benefits of adopting the
proposed techniques:
technicalization conflicts a bit with production culture (...) some producers do not see the result
of how genetically improved plantations work and the effect of technology-intensive crops,
clones or varieties, because they expect to give the new variety the same treatment as a
traditional crop. (J.P. Salamanca 2015, Interview, 10 June)
The problems were attributed to cultural traits: ‘People from Santander have a character.
It is difficult that they give-in. The culture has a lot to do. The culture here is difficult’
(D. Morales 2015, Interview, 19 June). Governments and the agrochemical industry often
blame the limitations of capital-intensive farming practices on a cultural deficiency of
farmers (Galt, 2012). Here, extension agents reduce material constraints that include
Figure 2. Diagram of avocado trade relations.
Serrano and Brooks 11
access to markets and capital, and seasonal environmental conditions, to farmers’ inability
to adapt. The policy emphasis on avocado exports has set export-quality standards as the
norm. Farmers unable to reach these standards are perceived as failures, despite the fact that
they have long produced avocados that are consumed locally.
Handling crops according to customary practices lies outside of definitions of good
production. The adjectives of ‘technical’, ‘well managed’, and ‘rational’ are restricted to
those who follow a specific model of intensive technology and standardized practices.
The La Bodega
2
farm in San Vicente is a good example. Alejandro, its owner, is a
businessman with investments in agroindustry and real estate sectors. He mainly grows
citrus and avocados. These crops are clearly separated and managed in different and
specialized ways. To learn how to plant and handle avocado crops, Alejandro travelled to
Chile and visited several monocrop farms, and hired an agronomist.
At La Bodega, avocado trees are perfectly aligned on ridges, treated with pesticides when
workers detect fungi or certain insects and irrigated by fertilized dripping. Consequently, the
harvests are less vulnerable to seasonal changes (e.g. precipitation) and offer relatively
constant production throughout the year, with two mild yield peaks. Two employees
serve every 8 hectares of avocado crops. A farm truck delivers fruit directly to restaurants
in Bucaramanga, some of them owned by personal friends of Alejandro, who deal with a
commercial manager. Sales are formalized in a yearly contract that fixes conditions
(including fruit quality, prices, and payment conditions). Alejandro is currently focused
on selling in the national market, as the green avocado varieties he can produce are not
suitable for export. However, he would be interested in exporting if there was demand for
green avocados. He has the technical capacity to produce homogeneous fruits, in constant
volume and quality throughout the year. Farming practices at La Bodega required
substantial investments, enabled by Alejandro’s capital from other business ventures. His
farm now delivers high productivity and profits.
As in Alejandro’s case, the farms owned or managed by Jorge, Julio, Gerardo, and
Nestor, directly serve consumers, shops, or wholesalers, skipping at least one possible
intermediary in the value chain. Many of them have personal connections that allow them
to sell directly to restaurants or retailers and are able to hire sales people. In all of these
farms, trading and agricultural tasks are usually divided between different employees.
Avocados are planted as monocrops. Fertilization, fumigation, and sometimes irrigation
are performed according to standardized procedures. These activities and the related pay
rolls are usually financed by profits coming from other businesses. The owners of these farms
all have something in common: they do not work on their own land. They have the
possibility to invest revenues from other economic activities into their crops and do not
rely solely on farming to earn a livelihood. They are investors and their farms are sources of
profit. They have started growing avocado in the last 10 years and are benefiting from the
possibilities brought by an expanding avocado market.
In contrast to these larger commercial farms, there are farmers for whom avocado
agriculture is their primary livelihood. Andres and his father, Pablo, have been in the
business for much longer. They have less technical approaches to land management and
produce a different type of agricultural landscape. It takes an avocado tree approximately
three years to provide the first harvest, therefore Andres planted quick-growing plantain in
between trees, to provide some income and pay for the costs of planting. Pablo, Andres’s
father, owns an older avocado crop that has been producing for decades. Pablo has cocoa or
mango trees and cassava plants between his avocado trees. At a distance, the variety of trees
in Pablo’s farm seems an indistinguishable me
´lange that contrasts with the landscape at
Alejandro’s farm. However, high productivity is not Pablo’s priority. Instead, he is
12 Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
worried about having constant revenue, in the context of the risks he faces such as pests, low
prices, or low yields in any of his crops.
Pablo and Andres plant cocoa, mango, cassava, or plantain between the avocado trees
because ‘it would be a shame to lose that space’ (P. Mejı
´a 2015, Interview, 11 June). This
practice may reduce the productivity of each avocado tree but enables diverse production in
a limited area. Furthermore, Pablo, as with many other farmers, finds that intercalating
different types of trees contributes to limiting the spread of pests and provides several
sources of income he can rely on when one crop is not producing or the price is too low.
Other farmers also highlight the role of plant assortment in contributing to the diversity of
soil nutrients. These multi-cropping practices may result in a lower average income for
Pablo, but also reduce expenditure on pesticides and fertilizers and provide a reliable
income to maintain his livelihood.
Each year, Pablo gets two major avocado harvests, one or two cocoa and cassava
harvests, one mango harvest, and some sporadic yields throughout the year. He cannot
afford an irrigation system that could enable constant production. In order to buy one, he
could take out a loan, using land as collateral. However, he is not willing to do this as his
family’s livelihood would be at risk if he failed to make repayments. Without an irrigation
system his harvest depends on seasonal weather. Favourable weather results in high regional
yields and a glut of avocados on the market depresses the prices. Therefore, Pablo gets the
lowest prices per avocado, precisely when he has the highest amount of produce.
Andres and Pablo sell their produce to cacharreros who drive by their farms every week.
In recent years, they have searched for alternative ways to market their products. When they
tried to supply a wholesaler directly, sales were difficult as they were unable to create regular
trading relations and were offered low prices. Their yields were too low to supply
supermarkets. Pablo says,
I’ve tried selling all around the country. Leaving the farm at 9pm, to meet at 2am with a guy who
has monopolized the wholesale center and tells me that avocados are one thousand pesos [US
0.33 per kilo] today. As a small farmer with a full truck, I have to sell them at one thousand [a
very low price]. (P. Mejı
´a 2015, Interview, 11 June)
The conditions set by the wholesaler are Pablo’s only option. In contrast, wholesalers have
an increasing range of suppliers to choose from. According to Carlos, a long-time
wholesaler, 20 years ago he only knew of three large industrialized producers, ‘It was a
different story. Today, there are over a thousand producers’ (C.Ruı
´z, Interview, 15 June).
So, as Alejandro and other business people are attracted to the opportunities offered by the
increased consumption of avocados, stable prices, and export prospects, Pablo’s sale
opportunities are shrinking.
‘What we need is support to sell. To produce ...we know how to produce. But see?
The Opossums end up eating it’ (P. Mejı
´a 2015, Interview, 11 June) says Pablo, while
pointing at produce decomposing on the ground of his farm. He has been growing
avocado for over 30 years and has complete confidence in his agricultural techniques.
Pablo is reluctant to adopt more industrialized practices requiring high investments, as
him and many others recall how small farmers with monocrops or debts to pay for
irrigation have been driven out of business in times of pests and low prices. Additionally,
these practices would not solve his main difficulty: accessing the higher value and more stable
markets that Alejandro and other large producers are able to access. As mentioned earlier,
only farmers willing to adopt the practices prescribed by Asohofrucol are offered technical
assistance, which includes marketing and crucially business advice. Farmers committed to
more traditional agricultural practices are considered culturally unsuited. Long-standing
Serrano and Brooks 13
avocado farmers like Pablo are disadvantaged and left behind. They cannot get the state
support they need as the government’s policy objectives are dominated by export-oriented
production.
Wilmer, Carmenza, and Jose
´describe similar cropping practices to those of Pablo.
However, they own smaller areas of land that do not provide a sufficient income to pay
for nutritious meals every day. Like many other farmers in the area, they have tall and old
trees around 10 metres high and sometimes more than 40 years old that are less productive
than younger plants. These farmers cannot afford to cut down old trees to graft or plant new
ones, as this would mean waiting one to three years for the next harvest. They keep less
productive plants to survive and supplement farm income with low-paid insecure work on
other farmers’ land. Agricultural labour in the region, as in many areas of Colombia, is
usually hired on a temporary basis, at a daily rate below the minimum wage, and without
any social security benefits. These impoverished farmers are stuck with the conditions offered
by cacharreros. Moreover, cacharreros know this, and sometimes pay them even less than
they pay farmers like Pablo who can afford to seek alternative clients. Therefore, those with
the greatest need and least productivity are paid the lowest prices for their produce. The
distribution of land in the region and labour conditions in rural Colombia, among many
other historical and social horizontal factors shape the livelihood possibilities of each of these
farmers, beyond the relations between the actors involved in the avocado production
network (Fine, 2002; Friedland, 1984).
As more avocado markets open for Colombian producers in general, opportunities for
long-term small farmers are closed, and inequalities among agricultural producers widen.
Export prospects, stable retail prices in the domestic market, and the support offered by the
government have made this crop more attractive for business people like Alejandro, Jorge,
Julio, Gerardo, and Nestor. Revenue from other businesses allows them to make the
investments to produce homogenous fruits all year-round and hire sales people to market
their produce. In contrast, experienced small-scale farmers are squeezed out of markets.
With lower relative power to bargain with sales intermediaries and no direct channels to
consumers and retailers, they are forced to accept lower prices. Additionally, the practices
that allow small farmers to sustain low-investment crops to stay in business render them
unable to access the marketing and business advice now available through Asohofrucol to
other farmers. Instead of profiting from the booming avocado business, small farmers are
struggling more and more to sustain their livelihoods.
Left behind in a globalized food system
Our research has demonstrated how global food systems have wider affects on agricultural
regions beyond the linear relationships mapped in commodity chain studies. Global demand
for avocados and Colombia’s exports are booming, but small farmers in the long standing
production region of Santander are at risk of failing. Pablo, Andres, and many others have
not profited and face pressures to adopt unsustainable production strategies. Pre-existing
farmers are not materially connected to international supply networks and their fruits do not
reach new consumers in Europe, North America, or China, but they are enveloped in the
same avocado food system. Using methods common to the family of approaches that
encompasses GVC and GPN, our research has focused attention on the farmers who are
left behind by new globalized patterns of agricultural production. Drawing on the system of
provision approach we have moved beyond the usual vertical relationships mapped in
commodity studies to assess both the wider horizontal factors that shape the political
economy of avocado production and the broader regional impacts on livelihoods outside
14 Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
of global trade. This methodology helps us understand the roles that governments, traders,
interest groups, and retailers play in transmitting the demands of consumers in Europe and
the U.S. via global supply networks to Santander and how this effect carries beyond export-
oriented farms.
Ben Fine (1994) argues that the organic characteristics of food at both extreme ends of
systems are crucially significant and that the social and economic factors of SOP determine
each other in historically contingent ways. We can extend this argument by adding that they
not only determine one another, but also they can further determine livelihoods outside of
global food systems. Small and flawless Haas avocados that meet international demand can
only be produced all year-round in monocrops, under standardized and capital-intensive
cropping practices unavailable to small livelihood farmers. Pre-existing farmers need to grow
more than avocados and engage in activities that provide a stable, less risky income. New
investors like Alejandro are attracted by export prospects and compete in local markets that
Pablo and other small farmers used to supply. The deterioration in their livelihood
opportunities has been mediated by the government and materialized through agricultural
extension agents. By promoting technicalization and offering business support to new
producers, extension agents contribute to squeezing pre-existing farmers out of domestic
markets. Extension agents attribute farmers’ resistance to change to irrational ‘cultural
traits’. Their actions may not be rational in the sense of the classical characteristics
associated with the gendered and abstract figure of Economic Man who with his complete
knowledge of the global market, entrepreneurial spirit, and self-interest would always choose
to maximize profit (Galt, 2012). But through detailed fieldwork we can understand how
livelihood farmers’ choices are rational and risk averse.
Using a food systems approach has enabled us to take our analysis further than just
explaining the decision-making processes of livelihood farmers (Fine, 2002; Friedland, 1984).
We can explain how they are being impoverished by the state’s manipulation of the market.
Examining the global and regional contexts in which a new fashionable food system has
emerged, has enabled us to reveal how different farming approaches have developed.
Powerful connections between capital – which includes transnational corporations, local
capitalists, and international organizations – and the Colombian state have promoted a
particular vision for society and agriculture (Galt, 2014). Rather than a simple conversion
from livelihood to technology-intensive agriculture, the government is promoting a takeover
of agriculture by investment capital. This is a political decision, not a simple outcome of market
forces as it is led through the state. The standardized Hass fruits produced in technology-
intensive crops are not the only avocados in demand. Imported light green avocados are
reaching the same wholesale centres as avocados produced by poorer livelihood farmers,
demonstrating that there is demand and a commercially attractive market for these green
avocados in Colombia. We could not have understood these dynamics if we simply mapped
the linear, vertical commodity chain and examined the livelihoods of only those who produce
Haas avocados for global markets. Food system analyses offer a perspective to identify how
relationships in markets transform environments, livelihoods, and opportunities for capital
accumulation (Hinrichs, 2003). Studying the avocado food system beyond the borders of
linear supply chains enables us to recognize the relationship between agricultural policies
and different farmers’ livelihoods. Choosing, selling, promoting, or regulating an avocado
shapes the livelihoods and landscapes of many apparently disconnected, but actually
inextricably interconnected actors and places.
It is easy to reify fashionable products like Haas avocados, but a narrow focus on
individual ‘things’ can constrain horizons. Our research has demonstrated that global
food systems have broader agency in the transformation of agricultural regions than
Serrano and Brooks 15
can be mapped by following the production of farm goods or tracing the vertical
connections in trade networks. There does not need to be a physical connection
between consumption and production for there to be an affect. Other livelihoods are
impacted by consumers’ desires and retail trends (Guthman, 2014; Trauger, 2015). Our
work reinforced the notion that relations in global food systems are often distant and
anonymous (Hinrichs, 2003). These relations are not dependent on traceable transactions
and can further be determined by transformations to regional political economies.
Understanding these contexts requires in-depth fieldwork across agricultural regions.
Our work has shown how there is a hidden geography to global food systems. Small
farmers can be left behind and struggle to make a living when they are on the margins of
globalized trade patterns. Global-scale consumer demand for foods affects distant
agricultural livelihoods, including livelihoods of which consumers are not only
unaware, but to which they have never been materially connected.
Highlights
.Analyses of global food systems need to consider connections beyond linear commodity
chains to understand how new patterns of production and consumption modify or
displace existing local farmers’ livelihoods.
.This paper investigates how the recent global boom in avocado consumption has
impacted the livelihoods of traditional avocado farmers in Santander, Colombia.
.Export prospects, stable prices, and government support have made avocado crops more
attractive for investors, who can fulfil strict quality requirements.
.Farmers who cannot produce export-quality avocados are squeezed out from the
domestic market due to increased competition and lack of government support and left
behind in a globalized market.
Acknowledgements
We want to thank the reviewers for their sound advice and relevant questions, which helped us to
improve this manuscript.
Declaration of conflicting interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or
publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Notes
1. Searches were undertaken at www.instagram.com on 26 July 2018.
2. All the names of farms and producers were changed to provide confidentiality to the interviewees.
16 Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
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20 Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 0(0)
... For this reason, many of the news articles and reports I mobilize throughout the case study are concerned with Mexico. I also use Serrano and Brooks' (2019) research as their analysis of the impacts of the avocado growing market on local farmers in Colombia is relevant to explore 'healthy' food's effectivities as they materialize in not only economic but also political and agricultural realms. More research could be done to further investigate how some of the power dynamics I discuss here emerge or materialize differently in other producing contexts. ...
... International marketing campaigns, dietary guidelines, and medical studies have encouraged consumers to eat more avocados for associated health benefits, contributing to the emergence of this new food product consumption trend (see Carman 2019; Gonçalves 2018; Serrano and Brooks 2019;Ferdman 2015). The avocado's purported health benefits are associated not only with a particular (healthy) diet but also with a particular lifestyle deemed desirable (Serrano and Brooks 2019) 7 within a context where contemporary healthism discourses make health a highly prized moral and individual objective (Crawford 1980;Lupton 1997;Metzl and Kirkland 2010). ...
... These discourses foster the association of particular foods promoted for their apparent health properties with valorized and popularized-healthy-lifestyles. Serrano and Brooks (2019) analyze how the avocado's ever-growing market has changed local farmers' practices and livelihoods in Colombia. The researchers highlight how these changes intertwine with overall dynamics between global trade, and internal and external governmental policies. ...
Article
Full-text available
Current ‘healthy’ food knowledge revolves around characterizing food by its purported direct, causal effects on the body that ingests it, following a biomedical approach informed by nutritionism (Scrinis, Nutritionism: the science and politics of dietary advice. Columbia University Press, New York, 2013). As long as the focus is on the effects given foods or nutrients have on the ingesting body, a whole array of other effects that produce differentiated bodies beyond ingestion processes receive little attention. I draw on Grossberg (We got to get out of this place: popular conservatism and postmodern culture. Routledge, New York, 1992)’s notion of “effectivities” as a way of taking into account the heterogeneous ‘effects’ that ‘healthy’ food—as a discursive construct and a material object—has, and which occur in different realms (economic, political, agricultural, interspecies, health-related). Using the avocado as a means to illustrate my broader theoretical argument, I contend that ‘healthy’ foods’ effectivities can be observed in how they materialize in differentiated—here racialized—bodies. This raises the key question that permeates the critical stance of this article: whose health matters when it comes to defining ‘healthy’ food?
... Hass, represents an important agribusiness in many countries, such as Mexico, Indonesia, the United States of America, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Chile, Peru, among others [1]. In countries such as Colombia, the planted area with Hass avocado has significantly increased in recent years [2]. Still, the industry has presented some technological limitations in selecting regions with appropriate soil and climatic conditions for planting this species [3]. ...
... IR was computed using the following assumptions: (i) surface runoff, drainage, and upward flux from the whole model are neglected (which probably underestimates the IR value because two of the three variables are outputs of the system); and (ii) the amount of water irrigation is zero (i.e., farmers do not irrigate avocado in Colombia). Crop evapotranspiration was calculated using Equation (2). ...
Article
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The primary natural source of water for the Hass avocado crop in the tropics is precipitation. However, this is insufficient to provide most crops’ water requirements due to the spatial and temporal variability. This study aims to demonstrate that Hass avocado requires irrigation in Colombia, and this is done by analyzing the dynamics of local precipitation regimes and the influence of Intertropical Convergence Zone phenomena (ITCZ) on the irrigation requirement (IR). This study was carried out in Colombia’s current and potential Hass avocado production zones (PPA) by computing and mapping the monthly IR, and classifying months found to be in deficit and excess. The influence of ITCZ on IR by performing a metric relevance analysis on weights of optimized Artificial Neural Networks was computed. The water deficit map illustrates a 99.8% of PPA requires water irrigation at least one month a year. The movement of ITCZ toward latitudes far to those where PPA is located between May to September decreases precipitation and consequently increases the IR area of Hass avocado. Water deficit visualization maps could become a novel and powerful tool for Colombian farmers when scheduling irrigation in those months and periods identified in these maps.
... There is a high local demand and an exponential increase in exports to Europe, the United States and China, mainly the Hass variety avocado (MADR 2018;Serrano and Brooks 2019). Presently, 21% of the area (15,530 Ha) planted with avocado corresponds to this cultivar with a production of 95,250 tons (MADR 2018;Serrano and Brooks 2019). ...
... There is a high local demand and an exponential increase in exports to Europe, the United States and China, mainly the Hass variety avocado (MADR 2018;Serrano and Brooks 2019). Presently, 21% of the area (15,530 Ha) planted with avocado corresponds to this cultivar with a production of 95,250 tons (MADR 2018;Serrano and Brooks 2019). In Israel, Kenya and Colombia, inadequate pollination is considered to be one of the most limiting factors in Hass avocado yield (Ish-Am and Eisikowitch 1998; Carabalí-Banguero et al. 2018a;Mulwa et al. 2019). ...
Article
Hymenoptera, especially bees, play a fundamental role in increasing the fruitiness and quality of the avocado through proper pollination. This study proposed to determine hymenopteran floral visitor fauna and potential pollinators of the Hass avocado cultivar in Colombia. The research was carried out on a single plot of land on a farm during two consecutive flowering periods (Aug-Sep. 2013/ Feb-Mar. 2014), randomly selecting four trees for the sampling and changing them every week. Hymenoptera richness did not differ significantly between flowering periods. Besides Apis mellifera, a wide diversity of floral visitors was found in the cultivar studied. Thirteen families of Hymenoptera were recorded, among them, three bee species of the Meliponini tribe: Scaptotrigona barrocoloradensis (Schwarz) (37%), Partamona cf. aequatoriana Camargo (32%) and Tetragonisca angustula (Latreille) (17.65%). Bees carried pollen from 18 botanical families, the most frequent were: Asteraceae (30.08%), Lauraceae (28.02%) and Urticaceae (19.49%). Although A. mellifera has the highest diversity and abundance in its pollen load, the stingless bees together transported about half of the available avocado pollen (47.53%). These bees stood out for having greater specificity in their pollen load, on surveying the insect body areas where they transport pollen. In A. mellifera, P. cf. aequatoriana and S. barrocoloradensis, avocado pollen adheres mainly to the legs while in T. angustula the greater pollen adherence was in the head and thorax. Although A. mellifera was the main pollinator, as a result of greater visit frequency and pollen load, the potential importance of the native bee species for pollination services is discussed.
... Avocado growers face this situation in distinct ways: while those in subtropical countries with 1000-mm-or-less yearly rainfall and extensive dry periods are committed to using efficient irrigation systems (Silber et al., 2019), many of those in tropical countries with only short dry annual periods neglect irrigation management practices (Erazo--Mesa et al., 2021). As part of the second group of countries, Colombia is highlighted as the tenth largest global Hass avocado fruit producer (Imbert, 2020), with an accelerating area growth rate (Serrano and Brooks, 2019), strategic market advantages, and serious unknowns in production system sustainability (Builes and Duque, 2020), which is a product of deep agronomic knowledge gaps (Ramírez-Gil, 2018). ...
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This study aims to determine whether Hass avocado irrigation can be triggered based on the surface soil water content (SSWC). To address this question, the soil water dynamics from three Hass avocado orchard plots located in Valle del Cauca (Colombia) was simulated using a model provided by Hydrus-1D software, which was calibrated through the genetic algorithm NSGA-II and validated using the soil matric potential measured at several depths at nine monitoring stations installed in the three plots. The influence of each superficial (0–5, 5–10, and 10–15 cm) and deeper (15–30 and 30–60 cm) available water (AW) computed from the simulated moisture on the SWB at 0–60 cm was estimated from the artificial neural network (ANN) trained weights. The most influential depth range was used to predict the soil water balance at 0–60 cm using ANN. For validation, the RMSE slightly increased regarding calibration, varying from 1.73 to 8.20, while the R² value varied from 0.61 to 0.89 (P < 0.001 for all cases). The AW at 5–10 cm depth had a significant influence on SWB with an average relevance index of 2.87 (Wilcoxon signed-rank test P ≤ 0.05) for Laurentina farm. The AW at 0–5 cm depth had not significant influence on SWB with an average relevance index of 1.34 (independent group) and 0.97 (P < 0.05) for Laurentina and Poncena, respectively. The ANN model predicted the SWB with a RMSE no bigger than 13.76 mm. In conclusion, the SSWC at a depth of 5–10 cm can be used as an indicator for scheduling Hass avocado irrigation.
... But we know little of how traceability serves as a means of improving working conditions or labour relations. Studies of the so-called full-chain traceability often miss the worker at the beginning of the chain; and more politicized issues of political economy and agrarian and livelihood transformation are also missed within these systems that are more concerned with having fully traceable supply chains in place (Carswell and De Neve, 2013;Riisgaard, 2009;Serrano and Brooks, 2019). A case study from the tuna industry shows that traceability may even reinforce the existing unequal power relations that structure the fisheries industry (Djelantik and Bush, 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper explores the question of what traceability systems mean for the labour situation of fishworkers; for whom and in what respects is traceability effective, and what impact do these systems have? The limited social criteria in fishery governance is a core reason for recurrent problems of extreme abuse of fishworkers around the world, including trafficking, forced labour and so called modern slavery. New traceability systems, thus, now include social criteria to advance sustainable fisheries globally. Drawing from a Thai fisheries reform case study, we analyse how the new labour traceability system emerges and is perceived by migrant fishworkers. We base our analysis on interviews, documents and two periods of fieldwork in Thailand. We argue that labour traceability is a double-edged sword. While fishworkers have seen major improvement in limiting extreme abuse, labour traceability has a downsides of state surveillance and costs passed onto workers. Moreover, traceability does not solve underlying problems regarding the complex formalization of migrant workers, working conditions on fishing boats, freedom to change employer or the everyday vulnerability of being a migrant worker. Thus, while labour traceability has promising policy relevance for the integration of labour rights into fisheries governance, it requires contextual underpinning in migrant circumstances.
... Additionally, it still has an agricultural frontier to develop, which could contribute to solving future food shortage problems (FAO, 2019). For this reason, countries such as China are investing heavily in the purchase of land 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 GDP from agriculture (%) Rural population (%) (Puyana & Costantino, 2015), as well as Mexico, Peru, the United States, Korea, and Chile (Gomez- Suarez et al., 2016;Serrano & Brooks, 2019;Urueña, 2016). ...
Article
Full-text available
Business competitiveness is defined as a company's capacity to participate in the market with an competitive advantage. It can be analyzed using different approaches such as the Resource-Based View (RBV) and measured from a multidimensional perspective. This paper aims to examine the competitiveness of rural enterprises run by a millennial population consisting of undergraduate students and graduates from different faculties of agricultural sciences in Antioquia (Colombia). A total of 1242 emails were sent asking to fill out an online questionnaire, and 432 people responded (34.78 %), with 11.91 % already having a business in operation (148 enterprises). Once the competitiveness index was calculated, a multidimensional statistical analysis was performed to identify differences between regions, economic sectors, status (formal or informal), number of employees, and age of the company. According to the results, service companies in rural areas, enterprises registered at the chamber of commerce, and those with a higher number of employees and longer time in the market exhibit a better competitiveness index. The main limitations, however, are observed in the competitive strategy and marketing components. Since the competitiveness index can have a maximum value of 10, values in the range of 5.68 to 6.79 indicate a medium level of competitiveness and, therefore, imply that the other components of the competitiveness index must be improved to achieve higher levels of competitiveness.
... Commentators from beyond vegan studies note how many forms of violence and injustice continue in food supply chains even when animals are removed. Examples include studies of the marginalisation of small-scale avocado farmers in Colombia (Serrano and Brooks, 2019), the ecological and social injustices associated with arable monocultures (Shiva, 1993;Green and Foster, 2005) and the labour and sexual exploitation experienced by migrant workers in horticultural sectors in Europe and the US (Holmes, 2013;Palumbo and Sciurba, 2015). Recognising the spectrum of systemic exploitation within both animal and plant-based foodways has formed a core strand of vegan-anarchist critiques against the 'vegan-asconsumption' approach (explored below) to vegan mainstreaming (White, 2018). ...
Article
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Veganism is the subject of an increasingly diverse body of social scientific research, yet it remains relatively understudied in geography. Meanwhile, contemporary cultural commentaries note how veganism has gone mainstream, with critics warning of veganism’s corporate nature – expressed in the rise of what we term ‘Big Veganism’. We argue that food geographers are well placed to examine these trends. We first review vegan studies work beyond geography that examines and critiques the mainstreaming of veganism. We focus on literature that explores multiple contested modes of veganism, veganism as praxis in place and the rise of corporate veganism as useful foundations for geographers to build on, particularly in light of currently unfolding developments in vegan cultures and practice. Taking this work forward, we identify four conceptual traditions from research in food geographies – following foodways, alternative food networks and the cultural and material politics of eating – to develop a ‘vegan food geographies’ programme that aims to advance critical geographic work on veganism and the emerging implications of its contemporary mainstreaming.
... Moreover, international trade of avocado experienced a significant and constant increase at the global level, passing from around 0.4 Mt in 2000 to around 1.9 Mt in 2016, with an overall increase of about 435% (FAO, 2020). Furthermore, a small number of avocado producers covers almost half (48%) of its global production (with Mexico accounting for a share of more than 40%), causing serious water shortages and negative environmental trade-offs on their water systems (Carr et al., 2013;Mekonnen et al., 2015;Donoso et al., 2016;Pleguezuelo et al., 2018;Serrano and Brooks, 2019). ...
Article
This paper investigates the relationship between international trade of avocado and the related virtual water trade over the period 2000-2016. Using a Physical Trade Analysis, we show that commercial and virtual water trade grew rapidly moving almost hand-in-hand in the years taken into account: in parallel with a remarkable increase of international trade of avocado from 0.4 Mt in 2000 to 1.9 Mt in 2016, the global virtual water trade of avocado increased from 408 Mm3 to 2238 Mm3 over the same period. The analysis emphasizes a large disparity between developed and developing countries, with the former being net importer of water and the latter large net exporter. In particular, large avocado-related water flows move from countries already under chronic water stress such as Mexico, Peru and Chile towards more water-rich regions such as US, Japan, Canada and the European Union. As a consequence, the overexploitation of water underlying the avocado trade flows may end up worsening environmental conditions in many relatively poor countries in which the export of avocado is often regarded as an important source of economic growth.
Chapter
The SoP approach views consumption as attached to vertical chains of provisioning linked to the materiality of specific goods or services, shaped by the context and the agents associated with the system. This chapter locates the SoP approach within the wider body of systems-based consumption literature such as ‘consumption as practice’, highlighting the distinctive contribution offered. The chapter documents some of the empirical research that has applied the SoP approach often in combination with other theoretical perspectives on consumption. The chapter shows how the SoP approach can contribute to our understandings of some of the gravest threats facing society including climate change and inequality. The chapter concludes with reference to emerging global crises from finance through obesity to the pandemic of Covid-19, and shows how the SoP approach offers significant promise for future academic research and policymaking in these areas and beyond.
Chapter
This chapter is concerned with applications of the SoP approach in practice and is oriented around the themes of social policy and social reproduction. The chapter first explores some of the contributions of the SoP approach to wider areas of scholarship, including consumption studies and understandings of social policy. The chapter then turns to explore more specific SoP applications focusing on selected areas of everyday life covering housing, water, health services and ‘fast’ fashion. The cases are mostly with reference to UK but with some case study material from South Africa, and the fashion case study relates to global supply chains. The chapter highlights the diversity in the materiality of what is provided, and the SoPs by which each of these reaches consumers or end users, across sectors and locations. This diversity across these cases clearly demonstrates that the drivers of consumption cannot be reduced to simple assumptions that are universally applicable. Furthermore, in the act of ‘consuming’, the consumer engages in an extensive chain of social relations but in ways of which they can be mostly unaware. The SoP approach unveils what is generally hidden from the consumer at the point of consumption.
Book
From mad cows to McDonaldization to genetically modified maize, European food scares and controversies at the turn of the millennium provoked anxieties about the perils hidden in an increasingly industrialized, internationalized food supply. These food fears have cast a shadow as long as Africa, where farmers struggle to meet European demand for the certifiably clean green bean. But the trade in fresh foods between Africa and Europe is hardly uniform. Britain and France still do business mostly with their former colonies, in ways that differ as dramatically as their national cuisines. The British buy their "baby veg" from industrial-scale farms, pre-packaged and pre-trimmed; the French, meanwhile, prefer their green beans naked, and produced by peasants. Managers and technologists coordinate the baby veg trade between Anglophone Africa and Britain, whereas an assortment of commercants and self-styled agro-entrepreneurs run the French bean trade. Globalization, then, has not erased cultural difference in the world of food and trade, but instead has stretched it to a transnational scale. French Beans and Food Scares explores the cultural economies of two "non-traditional" commodity trades between Africa and Europe--one anglophone, the other francophone--in order to show not only why they differ but also how both have felt the fall-out of the wealthy world's food scares. In a voyage that begins in the mid-19th century and ends in the early 21st, passing by way of Paris, London, Burkina Faso and Zambia, French Beans and Food Scares illuminates the daily work of exporters, importers and other invisible intermediaries in the global fresh food economy. These intermediaries' accounts provide a unique perspective on the practical and ethical challenges of globalized food trading in an anxious age. They also show how postcolonial ties shape not only different societies' geographies of food supply, but also their very ideas about what makes food good.
Article
Over recent decades, the demand for bottled water has grown exponentially at the global scale. In the marketing of such products, discourses of purity and paradise have often been invoked. Marketed as a ‘Taste of Paradise’, FIJI Water has gained enormous international success as an ostensibly clean and green product. Celebrity endorsements – reaching as high as US President Barack Obama – have abounded, driven in part by the belief that the corporation is both environmentally and socially responsible. This paper describes and analyses the rise of FIJI water and critically assesses the sources and impacts of its economic success. It goes on to explore its local social and environmental impacts in the context of a country that has been subject to waves of democratic crises where the fate of the polity has been influenced by FIJI Water's actions. FIJI Water has come to assume the role of development trustee in the villages most affected by the growth in exports. The democratic crises in Fiji has given FIJI Water profound developmental influence, and this has brought both costs and benefits at the local socio-environmental scale.
Article
The past few decades have seen many studies that ‘follow-the-thing’ by tracing an object back to its origins. In carrying out my own thing-following, however, I found the objects I chose were at times unfollowable, their trajectories highly changeable and punctuated by numerous ruptures. This article explores how we might progress with a methodology born in an age of early globalisation, when tracing things was easier and more surprising than today. It suggests that attempting to understand the unfollowable bits of the commodity trail may be an apposite way to go about such studies, especially in the light of the fact that globalisation is now a well-established phenomenon and capitalism’s precarious nature shows no sign of abating.
Article
Working through a Caribbean case study, this paper examines the networks and associations of Fair Trade bananas as they move both materially and morally from farms in St Vincent and the Grenadines to supermarkets and households in the United Kingdom. In doing so, the paper provides grounded empirical evidence of Fair Trade’s moral economy as experienced by banana producers in the Caribbean. The paper follows Nancy Fraser’s distinction between ways of framing justice to argue that, in order to transcend its complex postcolonial positionalities, the Fair Trade Foundation needs to include recognition in its moral economy as well as representation and redistribution. The paper compares the moral framework of Fair Trade as an ideology and social movement with the lived experience of certified Fairtrade banana farmers in the Windward Islands who work mostly for, rather than within, an idealized moral economy. The paper also contributes to several recent debates in the agri-food literature exploring the interconnections between production and consumption, the role of materiality in contemporary food networks, the historical and (post)colonial nature of food moralities, and links between political and moral economies of food. Following an outline of recent debates about the moral economies of food and its relation to Fair Trade as a movement, the paper dissects the moral economy of the Fairtrade Foundation, highlighting the historical and geographical, material and symbolic, gendered and generational ways that food producers in the Global South (in this case, banana farmers in St Vincent and the Grenadines) may be counterposed to ‘responsible’ consumers in the Global North. Despite the good intentions of those who promote the Fair Trade movement through the Fairtrade Foundation and the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), our case study reveals a moral economy of non- (or partial) recognition, which has a range of unintended consequences and paradoxical effects.