It is mango season! But before we all go crazy buying every mango in sight, it’s important to talk about its sustainability. Similar to other tropical fruits like bananas and coconuts, mangoes’ climate-specific farming needs impose a few sustainable and ethical issues. This isn’t to see that you should feel guilty about enjoying a mango or two, it’s just important to keep in mind!
Mangoes aren’t inherently bad for the environment. Out of all the greenhouse gases the mango industry produces, 60 percent of them come from fertilizers and transportation. This is what’s included when talking about transportation emissions; fossil fuels and gas for transportation vehicles, electricity in packinghouse cooling rooms (fruit needs to be refrigerated after all), and fuel for heated hot water tanks needed to treat fruit fly larvae.
The lengths mangoes have to travel is by far the most unsustainable part about them. Mangoes, along with avocados, are some of the most air-freighted fruit.
Agrochemicals (fertilizers) are also responsible for a significant chunk of their carbon emissions. Obviously, anything that spikes the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions isn’t great, but the unsettling ethical issues surrounding these agrochemicals will be addressed in the next section.
Mangoes also require a lot of water to produce. A single kilo of fruit requires 1,000 liters of water. For perspective, a kilo of oranges only needs 560 liters of water. Obviously, mangoes aren’t as bad as beef, which requires 50,000 liters of water per kilo. So don’t worry too much, it’s still way better for the earth than any kind of animal agriculture.
The pay workers receive in the mango industry is far too low. The wages are usually lower than, set at, or slightly more than minimum wage. But minimum wage and a living wage are two very different things, and even those making more than the required minimum will have a hard time supporting a family. In Brazil, R$3,960 (the equivalent of $741.11 USD) is what’s needed for an average household to get by. The average worker is making R$954 (the equivalent of $178.54 USD). That’s nearly a quarter of what they need and it’s absolutely unrealistic. Women also earn 5 percent less than their male counterparts, which may not sound like much, but when they’re already making a fraction of what they should, every penny counts.
It gets even worse for seasonal and temporary workers. The least the industry can do is provide workers with permanent jobs, right? Unfortunately, the mango industry has an incredibly high turnover rate. In 2017, 28 percent of workers had worked for less than six months in mango farms in Pernambuco and Bahia.
Many fruit farms require part-time workers for three to six months out of a year, but the workers’ wage is proportionally the same as a full-time worker. This would be okay if they had other work the other months out of the year, but they do not. Instead, they are forced to make due with a fraction of an annual salary for an entire year. They also have little protection with international labor laws and company codes. To make matters worse, many of these underpaid workers are women.
Exposure to fertilizers is also an issue. They can cause itching, leave marks, and even exposed wounds. Farmers and workers can finish their months on a mango farm covered in scars and markings from these agrochemicals.
Buying fairtrade mango is a great way to enjoy the fruit without bearing the ethical and environmental load of the industry. Fairtrade keeps workers safe, paid consistently and fairly, and helps them meet “the array of hygienic and aesthetic demands placed on their products.” Their products will have a “Certified Fair Trade” label or sticker on them – so keep a lookout for that. It’s a small gesture that makes a big difference!
- The Human and Environmental Impact of Bananas
- The Environmental and Public Health Impact of Commercial Fish Farming
- Is Your Obsession With Coconuts Harming the Environment?
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