The citric kick from the limes that grow in abundance across Mexico – the world’s largest fruit producer – helps give the country’s cuisine its distinctive flavor.
But aggressive price-fixing by criminal groups has driven prices up, prompting some restaurants to stop offering limes with their tacos — and leaving diners in a sour turn.
“If you go to tackia they tell you there’s no lime, or there’s a little lime for every 10 people,” said Romain Le Cour, head of the security and violence reduction program at the think tank. México Evalua. “It’s almost a joke.”
Prices often peak in winter, but this year they have reached all-time highs, due to lower production, continued exports and colder weather. The average cost of limes has tripled since January 2021 – from 17 pesos (nearly a dollar) to 56 pesos per kilo, according to state data.
And amid a growing inflation-driven cost-of-living crisis, cartels are imposing increasing controls on growers during the bumper harvest season – in part to fund an escalation of war in the western state of Michoacán where the aggressive expansion of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC) has sparked bitter conflict with a coalition of local groups known as the United Cartels.
“The lime trade is a billion dollar industry and for any criminal group it is very easy and extremely profitable for them to go to the farmers and tell them what they have to pay to protect themselves. said Le Cour. “It’s classic mafia.”
The harvest in Michoacán in December was down 26% from the previous month and almost half compared to the same period last year – 66,000 tonnes less, according to official data.
In some places, cartels reportedly limited picking to a few days a week to more easily manipulate prices. “The cartels dictate the price of the lime, they decide whether to pick it or not,” a worker in the sector told the Reforma newspaper.
Some farmers abandoned their fields to avoid dealing with the cartels amid severe harassment and fighting, while bandits also stole large quantities of limes in transit. Others are said to have been forcibly displaced. A grower from El Aguaje, Michoacán, told local media, “They took our land, they took our houses, they looted our lime orchards.”
More than 2,800 Mexican Army and National Guard troops have been deployed to the state in an attempt to mitigate cartel violence after suspected JNGC members dug ditches to cut off a key road.
It’s not just the lime trade that has been trapped by the cartels. A large majority of Mexico’s avocado exports also come from Michoacán – the site of some of the fiercest battles after the militarized war on drugs was launched in 2006.
The prices of “green gold” fruit are skyrocketing. Already, it is rarely served at tackias in large quantities, unless the guacamole is purchased separately. But there are fears the expensive lime could force a general rise in taco prices after some restaurants moved in to blunt rising citrus spending.
“These lime price hikes were a long time coming,” said Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, who adds that cartels have been influencing fruit prices for years amid the growing popularity of lime. mexican food abroad.
“It’s a perfect storm of trouble with the limes. And sadly, the American consumer only cares about their margarita and the squeeze of lime wedges on their tacos. Limes and avocados have essentially become the edible version of drugs, due to the misery their increasing consumption is causing.