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The place where lime is escorted by the police

Members of the Civil Guard escort a truck carrying lemons (out of frame) in the Apatzingan-Nueva Italia highway section, Michoacan State, Mexico, on September 20, 2023.
Members of the Civil Guard escort a truck carrying lemons (out of frame) in the Apatzingan-Nueva Italia highway section, Michoacan State, Mexico, on September 20, 2023. Copyright ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP or licensors
Copyright ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP or licensors
By Doloresz KatanichSantiago Martin Martinez with AFP
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The price of the fruit rose more than 58% in the last year in Mexico.

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Two abandoned plots stand out among gigantic lime and banana crops in Apatzingán, Mexico. Its owners were preparing the land to plant, but preferred to leave when organized crime gangs came to extort them.

Michoacan, the most affected region in Mexico is controlled by the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), and criminal gangs such as Los Viagras and La Familia Michoacana.

In addition to drug trafficking, criminals impose quotas on producers and intermediaries that hit the pockets of millions of consumers. They also fight over a land tax they force producers to pay. It is the equivalent of $0.11 (€0.10) for each kilo they sell. The region can produce about 900 tonnes of limes a day.

Canva
Mexico produces approximately 3 million metric tonnes of fresh lemon and lime each year.Canva

As a result, the price of lime rose 58.5% in the last year, according to the Agricultural Market Consulting Group (GCMA). In Mexico City, the price doubled to almost $4.5 per kilo (€4,26) in August.

The sacrifice is huge in a country where lime reigns in its gastronomy. Mexico is also the world’s largest producer of the fruit.

"It's through the roof, I only buy the amount I'm going to use in the week, four or five pieces and no more," says Gabriela Jacobo, a 53-year-old housewife, in Morelia, the capital of Michoacán.

Michoacan, the region plagued by cartels

Due to this situation, the police started escorting lime shipments that go to the rest of the country.

"We are providing support to all vehicles that transport this product (limes) in a coordinated manner (with other security forces), with the objective of ensuring that the product reaches its destination without any major incident,” said Jose Ortega, deputy police chief for Michoacan state.

The increase in prices, due to extortion by organized crime, also affects tomato, banana, and mango producers, as well as transporters and distributors.

Extortion and theft cost the country's companies about $6.8 billion (€6.43 billion) each year, the equivalent of 0.67% of Mexico's GDP.

In other cities across the country, such as Chilpancingo, people have faced a massive lack of food products in the past after the murder of farmers and merchants who allegedly refused to pay extortion.

“We are drowning,” declare farmers

To confront crime, lime producers like Hipólito Mora founded self-defense groups in 2013 that ended up being accused of being criminal gangs themselves.

Mora continued to vehemently denounce drug traffickers, until the cartels killed him in June in the community of La Ruana, Michoacan.

AFP
Members of the National Guard stand guard at the entrance of the Lemon Market (Tianguis Limonero in Spanish) in Apatzingan, Michoacan State, Mexico, on September 20, 2023.AFP

"We are drowning with the cartel that is there,” says his sister Guadalupe Mora. “They are charging us a fee for everything: the basic basket, soft drinks, beers, chicken. Everything is very expensive because of them."

For farmers, there is no solution. The owners of the fields ensure that moving means leaving their workers without a livelihood.

Prosecutor Rodrigo González, head of a unit that pursues crime in Michoacan, asks the "citizens to come forward" to report but to little success as many fear experiencing the same fate as Hipólito Mora.

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