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Guacamole Mafia?

By Arnaud Masset
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As summer brightens our mood, even crime reports are taking a light-hearted (and delicious) turn.

Forget diamonds and gold bars: avocados are the now the prize for organised crime rings.

Avocados have become increasingly popular in recent years, praised for their high content of unsaturated fats and antioxidants. They can be smashed, sliced, smeared and social-media-ed, meaning you’d be hard-pressed to find a menu without them.

Unwavering demand, which has continued to increase since lockdowns lifted, has pushed the price up by 120%. The average price of a Hass avocado grown in Mexico has almost doubled since the start of 2021. However, there’s a dark side to every success story.

In what sounds like a plot for Hollywood’s next blockbuster, crime networks and cartels, mobs and midnight marauders are homing in on what the Wall Street Journal calls “green gold”.

Thousands of tons of avocados have been stolen over the past five years, according to the South African Subtropical Growers’ Association.

Mexico was the world’s biggest avocado exporter in 2019, selling more than US$2.78 billion. South Africa was the world’s sixth-biggest exporter of avocados in 2019, selling fruit worth more than US$70.66 million.

This big business hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mexican cartels, which are battling to control trade in their declared jurisdictions. Mexican plantation owners have reported being forced to make unlawful payments to the mafia for unsolicited “protection” or suffer violent consequences usually reserved for the drug trade.

South African growers, who lose up to 20% of their produce to theft, are taking matters into their own hands. Electrified fences more than 7 feet high and topped with barbed wire are in place to deter would-be thieves. Infrared cameras alert armed canine security response units to any intruders and capture vehicle licence plates. These measures only take them so far, however. Gangs lie in wait for lapses in security, cutting through fences and raiding orchards and storage bins, loading their loot onto waiting flat-bed trucks.

Theft isn’t taken lightly in the United States either. A dedicated hotline is available to report avocado theft. Get caught in California, and you’ll be charged with a felony, punishable by up to one year in prison or a hefty US$5,000 fine, making that the most expensive avocado you’ve ever laid hands on.