Since the beginning of the 20th century drug trafficking has been a part of the Mexican economy. Mexico has become the largest marijuana producer and the third opium supplier for the international market. US-led interventions in South American drug producing countries like Peru, Bolivia and Colombia diminished their drug production but increased the presence of drug cartels and drug production in Mexico. As a result, illegal crops are being cultivated in a third of Mexico’s municipalities.
Policies that damage the Mexican agriculture sector, where maize cultivation has been the main economic activity since pre-colonial times, have been implemented for decades, benefiting large producers and having farmers lose the governmental subsidies, and thus, their livelihoods. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) removed customs tariff on maize, causing Mexico to be filled with cheaper American product and dropping the prices of the Mexican product about 20%, forcing farmers to substitute their production for illegal crops, or intercrop legal and illegal crops to make a profit.
Recent academic research has compared drugs with diamonds considering them ‘lootable’ natural resources, negatively affecting the environment as a consequence of farming, production, consumption and eradication. This damage can be seen in the form of deforestation, erosion of land, contamination of superficial water and destruction of flora and fauna, amongst others.
Mexican aquifers and other natural resources are being exploited and forests are being destroyed. As a result of decreasing crop prices and increasing costs of supplies needed for farming, well-drilling for irrigation purposes and other technologies that further damage the environment are being used, while the use of agrochemicals and transgenic seeds is escalating to increase production.
Out of the 196 million hectares that make up Mexico, 64% have been degraded by wind and water erosion, with 10, 000 hectares of farming land lost each year due to salt accumulation with an overall 425, 000 hectares are no longer useful for farming purposes.
The illegal nature of drug cultivation forces farmers to move further into jungle and forest in order to hide the plantations from the authorities, bringing the negative ecological impact increasingly into the country’s jungles and drying water springs. As a result of decreasing crop prices and increasing costs of supplies needed for farming, well drilling for irrigation purposes and other technologies that further damage the environment are being used and agrochemicals are being abused.
Mono cultivation favours plague, requiring high doses of chemical pesticides and of fertilizer chemicals which end up in land and rivers. Additional environmental problems come as a consequence of the disposal of manufacturing chemicals and of substances disposed by users after consumption, resulting in surface water pollution.
Negative ecological impact that results from the drug wars comes as a consequence of the activity of drug cartels and of lack of government care. The drug eradication strategy used during the current drug war in Latin America destroys not only the illegal crops but also the legal crops, which make up the farmers’ livelihood. Damaging governmental policies, weak rule of law, the agriculture sector, drug cartels and environmental destruction are linked.
By Ana Lorena Vigil Gomez Haro, Associate of Another Day, security consulting and advisory firm.