The avocado is a new superfood and its cultivation has been increasing worldwide, including in southern Portugal. But avocado plantations suck up the water in the already drought-stricken country. Local residents and small farmers are fighting back.
Matthew Ambrose had imagined his ninth summer running a vacation quinta in Portugal quite differently. For decades, Matthew ran bars and discos in the UK. Now he wants to live a quieter life in a small guesthouse surrounded by a green garden, with his donkey, a pony and two dogs. But he fears that his only well will run dry and his land will become barren. Noisy excavators surround his property. A large Portuguese fruit-growing company is tearing up cork oak and prickly pear trees and laying water pipes to create a 50-hectare avocado plantation. Three deep wells have already been sunk – even though, as Matthew points out, locals are strictly forbidden from drilling new wells after many years of low rainfall and forest fires. But the company got permits from the Portuguese authorities. Matthew frets that the company will intensively operate the plantation for ten or 20 years, causing the water table to drop and wells in the area to dry up and leaving the soil depleted and without nutrients. Despite this, the authorities are approving increasingly larger plantations, which are also promoted by the EU. This report talks to avocado farmers, local residents and citizens’ groups and asks: Are Portugal’s avocados like “green gold” – or just a short-term money-spinner with expensive long-term consequences?