Presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Sunday that if he wins the July 1 election he will seek to replace opium poppy production in the mountains of Guerrero with the cultivation of corn by providing incentives to growers.
But convincing poppy producers to give up their lucrative cash crop in favor of the more traditional one is likely to be a difficult task: even corn growers agree that cultivating drugs is more profitable.
“There are areas where they produce drugs not because corn doesn’t grow but because [opium poppies] generate more income . . .” said Juan Pablo Rojas, president of the National Confederation of Corn Producers, who agreed with remarks López Obrador made during Sunday’s presidential debate.
Responding to a question from moderator León Krauze, the Morena party leader said that he would stimulate corn production through fair pay.
“In the Sierra of Guerrero, they shouldn’t be forced to sow poppies. They should be able to sow corn and be paid well,” López Obrador said.
“. . . Do you know why they also plant poppies? Because they’ve got nothing to eat. They’ve told me because I know the whole country and I’ve been there and they’ve told me that if they get caught, they’ll go to jail but at least they’ll have food there. We have to change this situation and take care of the poor,” he added.
State and federal security forces, including the army, have been involved in operations to combat poppy production in the state by spraying or pulling up plants, usually to the dismay of the growers.
Even though opium gum prices have collapsed from more than 20,000 pesos (US $1,020) per kilo to just 7,000 pesos (US $357) per kilo due to competition from the synthetic opioid fentanyl, it remains much more lucrative than corn.
In Mexico’s main distribution centers, a tonne of corn sells on average for 5,000 pesos (US $255) per tonne, meaning that producers sell the same quantity directly to distributors or an intermediary for an even lower price.
Consequently, growers are willing to take the risk of cultivating the illegal crop in order to reap the higher monetary rewards.
Rojas told a press conference that in order to encourage poppy growers to repurpose their land there should be “productive reconversion incentives” and that crops should also be rotated to avoid soil degradation.
The farmers’ spokesman also rejected a claim by independent candidate Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez in Sunday’s debate that no corn is grown in the Sierra of Guerrero, adding that the state is the fourth largest corn producer in the country.
“In Mexico today, corn is produced in the 32 entities of the country. We’re talking about corn for huitlacoche [corn smut], for pozole, popcorn, tortillas, corn chips, white corn for livestock, corn on the cob, husks for tamales, among others,” Rojas said.