Marijuana production in Ecuador is reportedly spreading throughout the country as criminal groups seek to avoid controls in place in traditional growing areas near the Colombian border, and meet the demands of the burgeoning domestic market.
So far this year, security forces have raided marijuana plantations in central locations such as Guayaquil in the west, and Baños and Chambo in the east, reported La Hora. Previously, marijuana plantations were mostly discovered in the states of Esmeraldas and Sucumbios, on the border with Colombia.
While many plantations remain in the open-air, there has also been a move towards cultivating crops in greenhouses and inside houses in urban areas, security analyst Eduardo Jarrin told La Hora.
In 2012, Ecuador's anti-narcotics police destroyed nearly 10.7 tons of marijuana, more than double the 2011 total of 4.6 tons.
InSight Crime Analysis
As Jarrin points out, one of the main triggers for the expansion of marijuana production throughout the country was likely increased pressure from the security forces in the border region, which has encouraged criminals to not only seek out new locations but also new methods, such as indoor cultivation. There is also the question of logistics, as it is often easier for criminal groups to distribute their product from more central locations.
Likely the most important factor, however, is the rapid expansion of domestic consumption of marijuana, which by some estimates has grown 300 percent since 2007. Meeting the demand of this growing market will have led to groups already involved in the trade to analyze how best to expand production, and may well have also encouraged new operations to develop outside of traditional areas.
Another aspect of this expansion to consider is the role of Colombian groups. The guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dominate marijuana production in Colombia and have a strong presence on both sides of the Colombia–Ecuador border, so may well play a role in marijuana production in that region. Meanwhile microtrafficking in Quito, Ecuador's biggest internal market, has been the domain of a small but influential Colombian cartel, La Cordillera.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether such groups have had a hand in the spread of marijuana production, or if Ecuadorean groups have stepped up.