San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Agriculture

Costa Rica bans avocado imports from 9 countries

Hold the guac! That side of guacamole could get a lot more expensive now that Costa Rica has decided to temporarily ban avocado imports from nine countries, including the world’s largest producer of avocados, Mexico.

Costa Rica produces only a small percentage of the avocados its population consumes, and one local producer predicted prices could rise as much as 25 percent.

A virus called “sunblotch” affecting avocado crops around the world — especially the coveted Hass variety — drove the country’s Plant Health Services to close Costa Rica’s borders to imports of the fruit on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Livestock and Agriculture Ministry.

Along with Mexico, avocados from Australia, Spain, Ghana, Guatemala, Israel, South Africa, Venezuela and the U.S. state of Florida have also been temporarily blocked.

Officials said the virus could do serious damage to the country’s roughly 900 small avocado producers if the plague finds its way in. The virus reduces the quantity and quality of avocados, affecting the tree’s leaves and deforming the fruit with yellow stains.

As of April, sunblotch had not reached Costa Rica.

The decision to block avocado imports from Mexico could leave many suppliers scrambling. Mexico is the world’s largest producer of avocados and the single biggest exporter of avocados to Costa Rica.

Mexico was responsible for more than 80 percent of the 12,563 metric tons of avocados imported in 2014, according to figures from Costa Rica’s Foreign Trade Promotion Office.

Costa Rica’s annual avocado production tops out at just 2,000 metric tons, according to the agriculture ministry.

Carlos Gamboa, manager of APACO, an avocado growers cooperative in the Los Santos area south of San José, told The Tico Times that he expected prices for avocados to jump as high as 25 percent as importers look to more distant sources, like Chile, Peru or California to fill demand.

Avocados have become part of the basic Costa Rican diet during the last several decades, Gamboa said, so given high demand, it’s likely supply will be quickly replaced.

He said he was pleased with the government’s decision to ban imports from sunblotch-infected regions.

“We’re very satisfied to see the Costa Rican government taking steps to protect domestic production,” Gamboa said.

Plant Health Services Director Francisco Dall´Anese has been in dialogue with his Mexican peers to find an alternative to safely allow Mexican avocados back into Costa Rica without risking the country’s domestic production. The agency said in a statement that it’s working to establish import protocols for the other affected countries.

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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