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The avocado agribusiness and the water crisis in Petorca, Valparaiso Chile

Petorca (Chile) has been covered with thousands of avocado trees which have triggered a water crisis in the region causing negative impacts to the environment and to the lives of the inhabitants.


The rising global demand for avocados worldwide especially in the United States, Europe, and China [2]  is causing almost irreversible consequences in some parts of the world. The avocado fruit became a popular fruit, known for its nutritious and its beneficial properties such as richness in vitamin E, iron, potassium, and monosaturated fats [20]. However, the cultivation of this fruit tree has a dark side. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:The avocado agribusiness and the water crisis in Petorca, Valparaiso Chile
State or province:Valparaiso
Location of conflict:Petorca
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Fruits and Vegetables
Project Details and Actors
Project details

-The avocado demands a lot of water to grow, approximately 389.5 liters to produce one kilo in a semiarid region like Petorca. Modatima states that one hundred liters of water are needed to produce one avocado, equivalent to the consumption of one thousand people in this period [17][19]. 60% of Chile's avocado is produced in the region of Petorca. In the year 2017, around 25 million tons of avocado were produced and approximately 9,737,500 m3 (9.73 gigaliters) of water was required for this production. About 70% of the avocado production is exported and the rest remains in Chile [2] [3].

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Project area:Aproxx.14,000 ha
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:70,000 aproximately
Start of the conflict:01/01/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Propal S.A Company
Agricola Rio Tinto
Cabrilfruit Avocado Orchard
Baika SA
Agricola Pililén
Agricola Condor
Agricola Los graneros
Relevant government actors:Ministry of public works, Department of Water (DGA)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Movimiento de Defensa del agua, la tierra y la protecciòn del medio ambiente (Modatima), Geminar School for Agroecology, The Petorca Farmers’ Union, Amnesty International, National Human rights institute, National Institute of human rights of the observatory of Diego Portales University
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Desertification/Drought, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination
Potential: Groundwater pollution or depletion, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Deaths, Malnutrition, Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases, Infectious diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Displacement
Potential: Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Intimidation and in some cases, even local citizens lost their jobs for having protested against illegal water extraction.
Development of alternatives:MODATIMA [11] brings forward the proposal that water regulation should be changed . The proposal is that water should be a common good, a basic human good ruled by the public. Local communities should have the right to use water and its alienation and commercialization should be forbidden [17].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the pressures from the community and from organizations, this form of unsustainable agriculture goes on. The government included satellite imagery and drones to inspect and discourage illegal water extraction but the situation continues. Several inspections were conducted and several irregularities were found, fines were issued but since the companies are allowed to appeal, they pay the fine and that doesn’t stop the problem [17] [22][23].
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[8] Chilean water code of 1981
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] La eco-geo-política del agua: una propuesta desde los territorios en las luchas por la recuperación del agua en la provincia de Petorca-Paola Bolados García, Fabiola Henríquez Olguín, Cristian Ceruti Mahn, Alejandra Sánchez Cuevas 2017
[click to view]

[6] Whose Scarcity? The Hydrosocial Cycle and the Changing Waterscape of La Ligua River Basin, Chile by Jessica Budd 2012
[click to view]

[5] Social Innovations as A Response to Dispossession: Community Water Management in View of Socio-Metabolic Rift in Chile, Ylka Roose and Alexander Panez 2019
[click to view]

[7] Paltas e agua robada by Danwatch 2017
[click to view]

[20] Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects by Mark L. Dreher and Adrienne J. Davenport 2013
[click to view]

[1] Conflictos socio-ambientales/territoriales y el surgimiento de identidades post neoliberales (Valparaiso, Chile)- Paola Bolados Garcia 2016
[click to view]

[2] La palta chilena en los mercados internacionales- Marcelo Munoz V 2018
[click to view]

[3] The avocado industry in Chile and its evolution- Francisco Gardiazabal and Francisco Mena 2011
[click to view]

[11]Modatima- The Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) is an organization born in 2010 in the province of Petorca, Valparaíso region, with the aim of defending the rights of peasants, workers and Inhabitants of the area, who were affected, since the 1990s, by the theft and seizure of water from the agro-industrial business of businessmen in collusion with politicians.
[click to view]

[13] Chile: los inconvenientes del auge del aguacate- Noticias DW, Sophia Boddenberg 2018
[click to view]

[10] Manifestaciones en Petorca por escasez hidrica dejan una quincena de detenidos por El desconcierto 2019
[click to view]

[9] CUT condena represión de manifestación por la crisis hídrica y usurpación del agua en Petorca by Central Unitaria de trabajadores 2019
[click to view]

[12] Authorities must protect Rodrigo Mundaca (leader of Modatima)
[click to view]

[14] Artistas ofrendaron agua a la provincia de Petorca by RadioUChile 2021
[click to view]

[15] Noticias DW, Sophia Boddenberg 2018
[click to view]

[16] Caso paltas: el conflicto de interés de la Seremi de Medioambiente de Valparaíso by Francisco Velasquez 2018
[click to view]

[21] Chilean villagers claim British appetite for avocados is draining the region dry by the Guardian 2019
[click to view]

[22] L’avocado che lascia senz’acqua migliaia di cileni by Internazionale Magazine 2017
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[17] Is our love of avocados fuelling Chile's drought? | Running Dry by Thomson Reuters foundation 2019
[click to view]

[18] 'SECOS' RECUPERAR EL AGUA by Secos TV 2017
[click to view]

[19] PETORCA cuando el río suena bt Documental de Fundación Superación de la Pobreza - SERVICIO PAÍS 2020
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Rommana Patricia De Paiva, LLM Sustainable Development at Unimi, [email protected]
Last update20/04/2021
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