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Corn or poppies? Corn or poppies?

Guerrero farmers have used state-supplied fertilizer to grow poppies

New federal program offering free fertilizer is intended to persuade farmers to grow corn instead

Farmers in Guerrero have counted on government-supplied fertilizer for years, but not necessarily to grow corn, says the leader of a local agricultural association.

Rigoberto Acosta, head of the Guerrero Sierra Regional Council, told the newspaper Reforma that there was no doubt that “official” fertilizer has been used to grow opium poppies, explaining that the farmers themselves have said as much.

Acosta also said that during the 2005-2011 administration of former governor Zeferino Torreblanca, he accompanied a delegation from the United States to communities where they confirmed the use of government-supplied fertilizer to grow the illicit crop.

For the past 25 years, state and municipal authorities in Guerrero provided subsidized or free fertilizer to farmers but this year the federal government launched a national distribution program whose first phase is currently being rolled out in the southern state, albeit with delays.

The government’s goal is that farmers stop growing opium poppies and cultivate corn instead.

With the price of opium gum plummeting last year, farmers are open to making the change, according to Acosta and a federal official.

Pablo González Villalba, adviser to the federal government’s super-delegate in Guerrero, said that when fertilizer was recently distributed to farmers in the state’s Sierra region, they asked for ammonium sulfate rather than diammonium phosphate, which was used to grow opium poppies.

“The farmers said they didn’t want phosphate . . . which, according to them, is what they used for the production of that crop,” he said.

“That’s what they said, [although] we can’t prove that they worked with that type of crop or if they used the fertilizer for that purpose.”

González said that by the end of the year, federal authorities will be in a position to determine whether their distribution of free fertilizer has been successful in increasing corn production.

The government is aiming for a significant increase in cultivation of the crop during its six-year term as part of a plan to achieve food self-sufficiency, and to that end President López Obrador announced guaranteed prices for five agricultural products, including corn, earlier this year.

While state and municipal programs – including the distribution of free fertilizer – have failed to increase corn yields in Guerrero during the past 25 years, the federal government is hopeful that it can turn one of the country’s largest opium poppy-producing states into a more productive maize-growing region.

According to government statistics, corn is currently grown on 20,975 hectares of land in Guerrero, while the annual production of just under 16,000 tonnes is insufficient to meet demand in the state.

Mexico’s corn imports from the United States more than doubled between 2013 and 2017, while in the same period, the area of land on which opium poppies are grown increased significantly, according to U.S. government data.

However, the rise in popularity of fentanyl among U.S. drug users, and the resulting slump in the opium price, may just help the government to convince poppy producers to ditch the illegal crop and switch to the legal one.

Source: Reforma (sp) 

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