Farmers Switch From Coffee to Poppy in Mexico’s Heroin Hub
Fungus outbreak fuels U.S. heroin epidemic
by MICHAEL LOHMULLER
Falling coffee production in Mexico’s Guerrero state, in part due to a devastating plant fungus, has reportedly contributed to rising poppy cultivation, in turn facilitating the state’s transition into a battleground for competing drug groups.
Coffee production in Guerrero fell 88 percent between 2003 and 2016, from 4,638 tons to 552 tons, reported El Universal. This decline came on top of an over 13,000-ton drop in production following the 1992–93 coffee cycle, which produced an estimated 17,572 tons.
Guerrero’s declining coffee production in recent years has been blamed on coffee rust, a fungus that destroys coffee plants and which has eliminated almost 40,000 hectares of coffee crops, reported El Universal. Coffee rust thrives in humid climates, and the landfalls of Hurricane Ingrid and Manuel in 2013 are blamed for creating conditions that allow the disease to spread.
Mexican officials were initially hoping to replant 3,000 coffee plants per hectare by the end of 2016, which would make them ready for harvest in 2020. However, Arturo García Jiménez, director of a local sustainable agricultural organization, said perhaps only half of that figure would be planted due to underfunding from Mexico’s secretariat for agriculture and rural development.
El Universal reports coffee cultivation in Guerrero began falling in the early 1990s, when the Mexican Institute for Coffee, which bought coffee for export, started losing its presence in the area. The subsequent drop in prices disincentivized coffee production, and locals began turning to poppy cultivation.
Federico Lorenzano, director of rural development in the municipality of Ayotac, estimated that 600 hectares are under poppy cultivation in Guerrero, but said that the actual number is difficult to know for certain. In comparison, around 23,000 hectares are under coffee cultivation, reported El Universal.
When asked what alternative crops exist in Guerrero to alleviate the coffee crisis, Mario Valdez, a former politician in Guerrero, said: “Well, poppy. There are three things that we live on here: one, opium gum; two, remittances; and three, government subsidies … In that order.”
InSight Crime analysis
Guerrero is the epicenter of Mexican poppy, the base ingredient for making heroin. This is due to several factors, primarily the state’s weak rule of law that creates a permissive environment for criminal groups to push poppy production and cash in on the United States’ heroin epidemic.
Nonetheless, the economic hardships of local farmers amid declining coffee production are important aspects to consider, particularly when formulating strategies to undercut poppy production. Until such root causes of the drug trade are tackled, Guerrero will likely continue to be one of Mexico’s most violent states.
Indeed, the Mexican government’s strategy of arresting criminal leaders in Guerrero has yielded little success in reducing violence, as new groups fight for control over increasingly smaller territories and trafficking routes.
The recent arrest of Clara Elena Laborín, alias “La Señora,” the wife of notorious drug trafficker Héctor Beltrán Leyva, alias “El H,” and the person who officials allege is behind much of the violence in Guerrero’s once proud tourist destination of Acapulco, is therefore unlikely to alleviate the state’s high homicide rate.
Rather, her arrest suggests a new, more insidious degree of criminal penetration in Guerrero, given her supposed connections to some of the state’s economic and political elites.