Mexican Opium Farmers Tell Their Side of the Story

By Brent McCluskey 02/06/15

Despite attempts to legitimize their business, opium farmers are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Poppy plant

The fields of Sierra Madre Del Sur, Mexico are filled with opium-filled poppies. The drugs are ferried into the U.S. by the cartels and significantly contribute to the growing heroin problem, but according to the farmers, it’s the only way they can make a living. 

Several opium farmers, who are so poor they live in barren shanties that lack indoor plumbing, finally stepped forward to talk about their work. While all the locals have ready access to the drugs, none use. Instead, they export their product to cartels for nearly $900 per kilo, who in turn traffic it along pre-existing distribution routes to the U.S.

The growers don’t like their business, but say the illicit product is the only guaranteed source of income. Even still, some have planted avocado trees in an effort to legitimize. But the trees don’t produce sellable fruit for at least seven years, and the farmers are forced to continue harvesting opium to fund their future endeavors.

A few farmers are trying to veer away from agriculture altogether and have built small trout ponds, but most of the fish are small and malnourished.

“Almost everyone thinks the people in these mountains are bad people, and that’s not true,” said Humberto Nava Reyna, the head of the Supreme Council of the Towns of the Filo Mayor. “They can’t stop planting poppies as long as there is demand, and the government doesn’t provide any help.”

The Mexican government does try to eliminate as many poppy fields as possible, but most are well hidden and a closely guarded secret. When the government does find a field, they use helicopters to spray powerful herbicides. But farmers think the allocation of resources could be better used elsewhere.

“The money the government spends on aerial spraying would better be spent on long-term development projects,” said Nava Reyna.

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Brent McCluskey is a Social Media Editor at International Business Times as well as a Jedi with Sith tendencies.  He is also a reader of books, slayer of dragons, and level 80 mage.

“Yeah, I have a broad skill set. If I had to pick between being a Divergent or a wizard, I'd pick a wizard.”  His wizardness can be found on Twitter and Linkedin.