Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Illegal opium poppy cultivation in Mexico on the rise again

A report issued jointly this week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the government of Mexico stated that the cultivation of poppies in Mexico had grown by 12% in the 2019-2020 season compared to the previous year.

The poppy is the flower that provides the opium gum for the manufacture of heroin, and its cultivation in Mexico is illegal.

It is grown in difficult-to-access areas in the southwestern states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, the western state of Nayarit, and also in an area of the northwest known as the “Golden Triangle” within the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango.

The report was the fifth in the U.N.’s MEXK54 Project and was titled “Mexico, Monitoring of Illicit Poppy Plantations 2019-2020.”

In releasing the report on Thursday, the UNODC explained that between July 2019 and June 2020, poppy cultivation in Mexico was estimated at 24,100 hectares — an increase of 12% over the 21,500 hectares for the same period in 2018-19.

Despite the increase, the report noted that the latest data was below the 30,600 hectares found for the 2016-17 period. However, the downward trend that had been occurring since then has been broken.

The cultivation figures in the report are estimates obtained through the interpretation of satellite images complemented with field visits and aerial photography.

“Despite the eradication campaigns by the Mexican government, the opium gum market persists and continues to be a very profitable activity,” the report stated. “Opium gum can be stored for long periods of time, allowing it to be marketed when conditions are optimal for the farmer.”

Pictured: heroin seized by the National Guard in Durango in 2021.
The government is shuttering illegal heroine labs at lower rates than in the past, as the market has shifted towards synthetic drugs. Pictured: heroin seized by the National Guard in Durango in 2021. (FGR)

The price that cartels pay for opium gum has fallen due to the boom in synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, growers from the Sierra de Guerrero have indicated over the past three years, according to the digital news source Sin Embargo. But with few alternatives to make money, poor farmers continued to plant poppies.

The monitoring of illicit farms — “mainly in Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, Nayarit, Guerrero and to a lesser extent in Oaxaca,” the report said — is the product of a joint effort between the Ministry of National Defense, the Navy, the Attorney General’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UNODC.

The report also included other data.

In regard to yields, for example, the report stated that the production of opium gum on a national level increased by 2%, fueled by an increase of 17% in Guerrero. But in the northern area of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango, the yield decreased 13%.

The elimination of heroin laboratories by Mexican officials fell 33% between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the report added.

Comparing two other periods, the report noted that the seizure of opium gum by Mexican officials, during raids on fields, for example, fell from 1,694 kilograms in 2013-14 to 87 kilograms in 2019-20 — a dropoff of 95%.

The report also said that, during field work, it was observed that the farmers use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on their poppies, which creates higher yields.

The results of the report will be included in the next World Drug Report, published each year by UNODC.

With reports from El Economista, Sin Embargo and UNODC

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