State-Supplied Fertilizer Growing Opium Poppies


Children at work in a Guerrero poppy field.

In the state of Guerrero, farmers have relied on government-supplied fertilizer for years to grow crops both legal (corn) and illegal (opium poppies). This was confirmed by Rigoberto Acosta, head of the Guerrero Sierra Regional Council who publicly stated to the newspaper “Reforma” that official fertilizer was used to grow opium poppies.  During the term of the former governor from 2005 to 2011, Acosta accompanied a delegation from the United States to communities to verify his claim.

For the past 25 years, state and municipal authorities in Guerrero have either subsidized or provided free fertilizer to farmers in this area in an effort to help keep the farming sector from going under. However, there is a national distribution program underway to help cut down on drug production.  The government’s goal is to encourage the farmers to grow corn instead of opium poppies as a better alternative.  And it appears that the free market may be lending them a helping hand. Prices for Mexican opium gum have fallen by as much as 80% in 2018 due to the rise in demand for Fentanyl among drug users in the United States. Researchers from the organization (Network of Researchers in International Affairs) in the states of Guerrero and Nayarit determined that the prices paid to farmers for opium gum had fallen from $1050/kilo in 2017 to $315 to $420/kilo last year. Some farmers have rumored that prices have gone even lower to $208/kilo indicating a price drop of 80%.

Two solutions have been proposed: The first is to legalize and regulate the growing of opium production. Farmers would continue to grow the poppies and sell it to private pharmaceutical companies that would convert the opium to morphine to be used in Mexico’s hospitals. However, that would only be a partial solution since the capacity for opium production would far exceed the demand for legitimate medical use and would not adequately cover the economic losses that would be incurred by current growers. In addition the link between legalization and curbing the drug-fueled violence by the cartels is just not as cut and dry as it may seem.

The second alternative is crop substitution (i.e. substitute opium poppies with viable alternatives). This is the one that appears to be favored by President Lopez. The problem with this is that the law of supply and demand tends to favor illicit crops commanding higher prices over legal ones. However President Lopez Obrador has announced earlier this year guaranteed prices for five agricultural products including corn. He is hedging his bets on turning the from a major production of opium poppy into a major production of maize. His goal is part of a plan to achieve self-sufficiency in food. While the goal of drug eradication is admirable, it is doubtful that one crop alone could do it. A better alternative in this area might be to strive for a diversity of crops (possibly a mixture of vegetables and ornamental plants) that will have the best chance for success on the open market in the States and possibly Canada.


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