By Jessica Berthereau
As the environmental and economic costs of industrial farming grow, so do opportunities to spur an ecological change.
For avocado farmers in Peru, it appears to be a boom time. Their production has increased sixfold over the past decade to meet growing demand abroad.
But appearances can deceive.
These and other single-crop growers are now grappling with rising energy and fertilizer costs and increasing public awareness of the adverse effects of pesticides, according to Brenton Ladd, a researcher at the Scientific University of the South, or UCSUR, near the Peruvian capital Lima.
"The industrial model of agriculture production begins to look less viable," Ladd said.
In agriculture, growing only one crop—monoculture—has tended to encourage increased output by lowering overall costs. But these so-called economies of scale have brought with them environmental threats resulting from intensive production.
Now, single-crop farming is increasingly an economic risk for producers themselves.
The EU is tackling both sets of challenges through new policies and research initiatives, harnessing its position both as a major agricultural market and as a leader in the fight to green economic activities including farming.
That's where Peruvian avocados enter the picture, revealing the EU's global influence in spurring a shift towards more ecological agriculture.
Avocados are very much in food fashion across Europe, as shown by the continent-wide abundance of trendy cafes serving avocado on toast.
This growing consumer demand has helped drive production growth in Peru, which is now the world's third-largest producer of avocados. It trails only Mexico and Colombia in the global rankings.
In the Peruvian province of Ica along the Pacific Ocean coast, the surge has resulted in an intensive monoculture of avocados, which require about 10 times more water than tomatoes.
The province also grows grapes and asparagus to supply Europe during the winter months. Both grape and asparagus production can be water-intensive too.
Researchers to the rescue
The EU is funding research to help agricultural producers in Peru as well as 10 European countries operate sustainably and profitably. This is part of a series of European research initiatives advancing the EU's 2030 biodiversity and Farm to Fork goals.
The project, called BioMonitor4CAP, runs for four years until the end of November 2026. The European countries represented include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Poland.
The researchers are designing advanced biodiversity monitoring systems to accelerate the shift towards sustainable farming.
Intensive agriculture destroys or damages natural habitats, emits significant quantities of greenhouse gases and eats into water supplies that are ever more precious as global warming accelerates.
In the EU, 1 in 10 farms followed ecological practices in 2021—almost double the share a decade earlier. This shows that growing numbers of European farmers are doing their part to preserve biodiversity.
The EU has set a goal of increasing organic farming's share to at least 25% by 2030. Recent changes to Europe's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, will bring the target closer.Click here to see more...