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.
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Security problems have affected the flow of produce into the United States. The Arizona Department of Agriculture stopped sending produce inspectors over the border to Sonora State in November because of the rise in drug-related murders. The shift of inspection operations into Arizona caused concern among importers in Nogales, Ariz., where 45 percent of all winter fruit consumed in the US crosses the border from Mexico.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Mexico's drug war
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"It just slows everything down, and the product is critical. We need to get it out because it's fresh produce," says Rick Valdez of produce broker C&R Fresh in Nogales. Mr. Valdez says limited floor space at new inspection stations has delayed his workers for hours. It may get worse after adding grapes to the list of imports in April, he notes.
The Arizona Department of Agriculture is working overtime to ensure a smooth transition, and has succeeded in many cases, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. President Lance Jungmeyer says some members have incurred increased expenses by hiring guards and installing cameras, but there is no sign yet that drug violence has affected prices of Mexican imports.
Mexican officials agree: "We are sufficiently productive to keep being competitive in the United States and other markets," says Ms. Léycegui, who handles foreign commerce at the Economy Ministry.
For companies, however, these expenses take a toll.
Raúl Torres Flores, a tomato distributor in Mexico City, says once prices of Sinaloan tomatoes went up after a recent freeze, the risk of theft also increased. Robbed twice in the past three years, Mr. Torres Flores is taking no chances and sends two trucks out on the highway at one time to watch out for each other.
"You work to make a peso, only to have it taken from you," he says.
While it is not clear how much these alleged activities have affected prices in a volatile industry driven by supply and demand, Mexico's drug war, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 34,500 people in four years, is now taking a toll on farmers and produce sellers.
"All I know is that I've never seen limes this expensive," says Fernando Segovia, who has been selling fruits and vegetables at a neighborhood market in Mexico City for 20 years. When lime prices soared, consumers cut back on purchases, he says, leaving his wife to prepare generous helpings of limeade.