A recent report on poppy in Mexico's Guerrero state highlights both the economic benefits and violent repercussions the plant's cultivation -- necessary for producing heroin -- brings to local farming communities.
Citing an unnamed military official, Mexican newspaper Excelsior reported at least 1,287 communities in the state of Guerrero are economically dependent on poppy cultivation.
"It is the base of their economy. Criminal groups arrive in the communities and ask the locals to plant poppy or marijuana," the military source said. "They offer to buy all the production and, as a guarantee, pay a cash advance. They also teach courses on how to cultivate and harvest the plant."
Guerrero is Mexico's top cultivator of poppy, the plant from which "opium gum" is obtained, the base ingredient for making heroin.
Cultivation is concentrated in the state's rugged and isolated Sierra region. The commanding military general for Guerrero, Alejandro Saavedra Hernández, told Excelsior 83,000 poppy patches were destroyed in 2015, up from 55,000 in 2014.
Each hectare of poppy yields an estimated eight kilograms of opium gum, which in turn produces around a kilogram of heroin. One kilogram of opium gum fetches up to $1,700, while a kilogram of fully refined heroin can earn almost $87,000, reported Excelsior.
According to Excelsior's anonymous military source, poppy crops can be harvested three times per year, earning Guerrero's Sierra communities roughly $23 million per harvest, or $69 million each year.
Nonetheless, despite the economic advantages poppy cultivation brings over traditional crops, it is also a harbinger of violence for Guerrero. As Excelsior highlights, criminal groups seeking control of trafficking routes and communities where poppy is grown frequently come into conflict.
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Guerrero's status as Mexico's poppy epicenter is the result of several factors.
For starters, a weak rule of law and near complete absence of the state in Guerrero's remote regions means it is ideal territory for growing poppy. And, with poor rural roads making the transport of traditional crops to market difficult, criminal groups buying opium gum directly from communities offers a convenient and economically attractive option for farmers.
Moreover, Mexico's criminal groups have been pushing poppy production to cash in on the United States' growing heroin epidemic, which may be helping offset lost marijuana revenue resulting from legalization in several US states.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Heroin
Such drug-related violence has been a major focal point for reform-minded politicians -- such as Guerrero Governor Astudillo -- seeking to shift the debate on drug policy from the current focus on prohibition toward a more human rights-based approach.
Indeed, Astudillo's suggestion to legalize poppy production foreshadowed comments made by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in New York on April 19 during the UN special session on drugs, known as UNGASS.
Noting the high cost in human lives Mexico has paid fighting drug traffickers, Peña Nieto called for moving beyond the decades-old "war on drugs" toward effective drug prevention and regulation. To that end, Peña Nieto echoed Astudillo's poppy proposal, saying Mexico would move towards legalizing the scientific and medical use of marijuana.