To find out the farmers' perspective on this controversial subject, we went to visit Célia Fences, who owns a small 4-hectare farm with avocado trees.
Three years ago, Célia Vences, a businesswoman who have never worked in agriculture, took the opportunity to keep the family's land and decided to embrace a new project: the production of avocados.
The family land was about to be sold and Célia only had two options: lose the land where she spent the most important years of her childhood, or embracing a new project on that piece of land. However, it was a shot in the dark as she’d never had any type of contact with these crops.
“My father was a farmer, but never had avocados. However, I did market research and at the time it was one of the most profitable and sustainable crops that I could get, that’s why I decided to embrace this project”. Regarding the lack of environmental sustainability, Célia Vences does not agree with most of the things being said.
“I accept when environmentalists say that avocado crops use water, just like other fruits such as citrus fruits, etc. Actually, everything uses water, including ourselves in our homes,” she said.
But there is a missing detail – “farmers are not interested in spending water, as water now costs a lot of money, electricity is very expensive, and people don't spend water just for the sake of it. In addition, avocados don't like too much water, there’s a balance we must respect,” she added.
Célia told The Portugal News that she does not apply any type of pesticides to her avocado trees, in order to make her fruit farm as environmentally friendly as possible. In addition, she managed to get an efficient irrigation system and save water.
“My father, when he was a farmer, used more water than I do today and he didn't have avocados. Do you know why? Because techniques are getting more and more efficient and people are now aware of the need to adopt more sustainable policies”, she said.
On a guided visit to that fruit farm, Sandra Custódio, an agronomy engineer, explained to us the irrigation technologies that are currently used at Célia’s avocado farm.
“In this farm, there is a drip irrigation system technique, which consists of watering lines next to the crop. This irrigation is made only for the necessary time that the plants need, since it is done with a program and we set the necessary time per day/week that the crop needs water. In addition, nowadays almost all producers already use soil moisture sensors which can let us know how much water a crop needs, and based on when it rains we can calculate the amount of water that the crop will need. For example, this year avocados had needed much less water than they needed before because it rained more and there was more water in the soil”, she said.
“It's possible to find out a lot of information. Even if you want to, you can access the software remotely from your mobile phone or tablet and know in real time if it's raining, how much it rained and the level of water content. There are certain formulas to get there, it's scientific”, said the engineer.
However, even with all this effort by Célia and so many others who follow the same line of thought, people continue to blame avocados for the drought in the Algarve region. “I have read in the news people saying they should kill avocado trees because they are sucking the water from us, but that's a lie!
“Right now there is a campaign against avocados, which is wrong. There are many more citrus fruits in the Algarve, around 18,000 hectares, and avocado trees don't reach 1,800 and, using the same kind of irrigation, the difference between avocados and citrus fruits water consumption is only nearly six percent. Indeed, we have a water problem in the Algarve, it rains less and less, but avocados are not the problem. Tourism also consumes water and there is no reason to stop tourism”.
Regarding the monoculture problem, Célia said that there are some measures to be applied to reduce the impacts that monoculture usually has. For example, she does not cut herbs and other autochthonous plants that grow on the farm because “they are good for improving the soil's water holding capacity, which also reduces the amount of water needed and creates an ecosystem, which is good”.
All in all, the criticism doesn't stop and is negatively impacting the business. In her words, “if we continue to have this evil perspective around the avocado, the Portuguese, who were starting to eat this fruit, will stop consuming it. Anyway, it's sad to hear such negative comments about a crop that brings wealth to the country”, she concluded.
Paula Martins is a fully qualified journalist, who finds writing a means of self-expression. She studied Journalism and Communication at University of Coimbra and recently Law in the Algarve. Press card: 8252