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The Avocado Ecology: Deforestation, Land-Tenure and Migration in Mexico’s Sierra Purépecha, 1953-1997

Authors: Viridiana Hernandez*, University of California - Davis
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Latin America, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: plantations, ecology, deforestation, migration, agriculture, peasants
Session Type: Paper
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This paper discusses the Sierra Purépecha’s social and ecological transformations through the study case of avocado production in the Mexican western state of Michoacán from 1953, when the Hass variety was introduced into the region, to 1997, when it was first exported to the U.S. The transition from growing Mexican creole avocado to producing Hass avocado for the global market altered both the Sierra’s forest and the campesino’s daily lives. Although commercial agriculture in the Sierra Purépecha rearranged the local ecological and social spheres in a process of accelerated deforestation, conversion of communal land-holdings into units of production, and campesino emigration from the region, the magnitude of those processes was specific to each community on the basis of former ecological and social conditions such as local relations of power, previous land-tenure arrangements, regulations, soil erosion, irrigation systems, plagues, and pesticides. The analysis of this differentiated process allows us not only to rescue campesino’s agency in the transformation of the local landscape, but also the discordance between the abstract and technocratic discourse of “modernity” and its implementation in concrete realities.

The way people relate to the human and non-human elements that surround them is established on the basis of one’s personal understanding of the natural and social contexts. These contentious conceptualizations of the environment and how humans should relate with it, gave birth to a “new avocado ecology” with varied results in Michoacán.

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