Lime farmers in Mexico have become the latest victims of cartel extortion, causing widespread crop disruption and skyrocketing prices.
Vast plantations of unharvested limes have been deserted across the western state of Michoacán due to threats and extortion targeting producers, according to a Televisa report citing affected farmers.
Among the groups allegedly involved are major Mexican drug cartels like the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) and the Cárteles Unidos, two groups currently locked in a bloody turf war that has rocked the western state.
Multiple lime growers in the area told Televisa they were displaced after cartels burned their orchards, looted their houses, and stole cattle and tractors. The threats have helped drive a drastic reduction in crop production across Michoacán – primarily affecting lime growers – with around 1,200 acres of farmland left unharvested in 2021.
Farmers in Michoacán harvested only half the amount of limes than during the previous year, according to data from Mexico's agriculture ministry.
The limited harvest has contributed to a sharp increase in lime prices, disrupting the consumer market and allowing drug traffickers to dictate prices and charge farmers higher extortion fees. According to the Mexican government’s daily food price monitoring, the cost of limes increased over 235 percent since January 2021.
“They [the cartels] impose the price of the limes, they decide if it can be lowered or not, they dictate prices to producers, pickers, packers and transporters,” one industry worker told Reforma.
Lime farmers are not the first to be targeted by cartel violence in Michoacán, with powerful Mexican organized crime groups having long sought control of the state's lucrative avocado trade.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the plight of Michoacán's lime farmers marks a new venture for the country's criminal groups, the impacts largely mirror previous criminal attempts to extort the state's agricultural industries.
In 2019, InSight Crime reported that four competing cartels, including the CJNG, were extorting avocado farmers in Michoacán, kidnapping or killing those who failed to pay. In total, the Michoacán Governor's Office has identified 12 criminal groups operating within the state's borders, many of which vie for control of the state's coveted farmland and related extortion racket.
This raging cartel violence in Michoacán and the Mexican Army's apparent inability to intervene has seen farmers take matters into their own hands. In the summer of 2021, avocado farmers and their families formed a self-defense group, known as Pueblos Unidos. To protect their crops, they armed themselves with machetes and firearms and erected barricades around fields of avocado trees and along connecting roads.
Lime producers quickly followed suit, creating a rudimentary self-defense group of their own, with some even preparing Molotov cocktails to see off the Viagras, one of the main criminal groups in the state.
However, it is uncertain if these groups have been able to make any sort of difference since reports from late 2021 showed that the extortion of remaining farmers was continuing unabated.