FILO DE CABALLOS, Mexico – The life of Crescencio Pacheco, like that of nine out of 10 people in this town in southern Mexico, has been dedicated to growing opium poppies, but now the trade is threatened by the rise of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
“This drop in the price of the (opium) gum is thanks to the creation of fentanyl, the synthetic drug whose use has been growing in the United States,” Pacheco told EFE.
For over half a century, 90 percent of Filo de Caballos’ 1,900 inhabitants have earned their livelihood as poppy growers and say it’s the only way they can survive.
“I’m 35. I started working for my uncle when I was 8 or 9 years old and learned to take care of the planting, watering and fertilizing. I was 12 when I began to sow my own crops,” Pacheco said.
To support his wife and their two daughters, he depends on income that comes entirely from the half-hectare (1¼ acres) sowed with poppies that is hidden among the cornfields and fruit trees.
While farmers in this part of the southern state of Guerrero have to wait from three to five years for orchards to bear fruit, they can start raking in the profits in just four months if they plant poppies.
“That half-hectare can produce 3 kilos, which sells for 12,000 pesos ($635), because the price has gone down with devaluation,” he said.
Pacheco added that this plant from which opium gum is extracted can be good business, though there’s always the risk that military operatives sent by the government will uproot all the farmers’ hopes.
“Growing poppies gives you all the income you need when there is a good crop – and when the government doesn’t destroy it. But if it does, you’re left broke, without anything, because all you’ve worked for is destroyed,” he said.
To the crisis of the drop in opium gum prices has been added the proposal that the Guerrero state legislature will send to the federal Congress to legalize the growing, production and marketing of the poppy for scientific and medicinal purposes.
President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who will take office Dec. 1, has alluded to his support for decriminalizing the use of marijuana and the sowing of poppies to “pacify” Mexico, where more than 200,000 people have died in drug-war violence since 2006.