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Mexico drug war's latest victim: the lime

The lime, a staple of Mexico's taco culture, quadrupled in price to almost $4 a kilo (2.2 pounds) in December and January, with drug traffickers blamed for meddling in the supply chain.

By Nacha CattanCorrespondent / April 12, 2011

A view of Lake Patzcuaro in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, which is surrounded by lakeside artisan villages, is shown in this file photo. The state of Michoacán supplies most of Mexico's lime market during the winter months.

Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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Mexico City

Tania Tamayo's family of farmers coughs up 800 pesos ($66) to local drug traffickers for every truckload of limes they ship from the violent state of Michoacán, which supplies most of Mexico's lime market in the winter months.

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The well-organized criminals give Ms. Tamayo's family a ticket as proof of payment to show to other gang members along the route to Mexico City, she says.

"All packing companies pay the money," says Tamayo, surrounded by towers of lime sacks fresh off the truck in a Mexico City supply station. Gangs also set market prices and restrict harvests to limit supplies, according to Tamayo and another lime producer who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation by the gangs.

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At a time when war and bad weather are among many factors driving up food prices worldwide, production costs of some homegrown items in Mexico are being influenced by another element – the drug war. The lime, a staple of Mexico's taco culture, quadrupled in price at some Mexico City markets to almost $4 a kilo (2.2 pounds) in December and January, with media reports blaming drug traffickers for meddling in the supply chain.

"We feel like someone else controls our lives, but you have to learn to live like this," says Tamayo.

Lime prices have since come down, but now the price of avocados, grown in the same region, has risen. A poor harvest and increased exports are widely blamed, but one distributor told the Monitor that drug traffickers have started to target Michoacán's avocado farmers, pushing up expenses.

Be it extorting farmers, attacking produce trucks, or causing more time-consuming border inspections, criminal gangs are affecting almost every link in the produce supply chain. From farmers to shippers to resellers to shoppers, the violence is affecting the food industry.

"There are security costs that companies have had to absorb," acknowledges Beatriz Léycegui, deputy minister at Mexico's Economy Ministry.

Cargo theft rose 50 percent between 2009 and 2010, says Refugio Muñoz Lopez, director general of the National Cargo Shipping Chamber. This caused theft insurance to increase about 30 percent for trucking companies. The government now offers escorts for trucks and warehouses storing sensitive products.

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