By Thomas Swanson
An integral part of Mexican cuisine, the limón is essential in almost every food we eat. It flavors our water, it adds zest to other fruits. What would a fish taco or a shrimp cocktail be like without the lime? And margaritas, tequila shots and Tecate?!?
Recently, lime prices have gone through the roof. The majority of limes come from Michoacán, the Tierra Caliente, where vigilantes are finally working to kick out the drug cartels. They are successfully re-taking lime and avocado orchards and returning them to their rightful owners, with little or no help from the state government, I might add. So, without the Knights Templar cartel placing a tax on every lime coming out of Michoacán, why are the prices skyrocketing?
It’s gotten ugly. Prices in Mexico City have gone up as much as 800%. What cost
6 or 7 pesos a kilo a few months ago now cost as much 70 pesos. Profeco, the Mexican consumer protection agency, recently closed over a dozen major distributors in the capitol for unfairly raising lime prices without legally required explanations. Prices are at record highs across the country. In Tamaulipas, which normally exports about 20,000 tons of limes a year, they are having to be imported at $60 pesos a kilo. Now part of this is the result of Hurricanes Ingrid and Manuel brutalizing our coasts last summer, but all of this doesn’t appear to be the half of it.
In a bizarre twist, it would seem that the drug cartel’s control of the fruit production actually helped to keep the price gouging from happening.
We have been cursing the cartels for years as we have known that everytime we buy an avocado or lime we’re paying a bunch of thugs a portion of the cost for their “protection”. That protection includes who is allowed to grow them, who is allowed to harvest them, who is allowed to truck them to market, and even who is allowed to own the orchards. Hijacking continues to be a major problem, protection or not.
As this phenomenon seems to be on the wane, at least in parts of Michoacán, even if it is only temporarily, another problem is emerging.
The Chinese name is huánglóngbíng, literally translated as “Yellow Dragon Disease”. It’s not a well- known problem yet, but very soon will be, because to date there is no cure and it is spreading very fast.
First showing up in the late 1920s, its spread was slow until 2007. Now, in the last 7 years, it has been found in every citrus producing country on the planet. Fear, greed and speculation take it from there.
Known as Citrus Greening in the US, it is caused by a bacteria that infects the entire tree, eventually killing it.
First the fruit turns withered and bitter, then the leaves yellow and fall off, then, within a year, the tree is dead.The bacteria is spread by a small bug called the citrus psyllid, or jumping plant louse, that is very plant specific. The ones that are killing our limes eat only lime trees and thus infect only lime trees. Other psyllids infest other types of citrus.
Mexico´s National Sanitary, Quaratine and Agro-Food Quality Service has labeled the Yellow Dragon the “most destructive disease” in the worldwide citrus industry. The disease now threatens over one million acres of citrus trees in Mexico alone.
California is waking up… not only are the commercial citrus fields in danger, hundreds of thousands of backyard trees are threatened with extinction. In Florida, research is underway. Penicillin is being administered to infected trees. Research using periwinkle, which is easily infected with this disease, is also underway.
There’s even an ongoing Texas AgriLife study using two spinach genes inserted into the citrus trees to try to inhibit the spread of the disease. The difficulty lies in the lack of obvious evidence that any given tree is infected, once it does become obvious, it’s too late.
Putting whatever price gouging, speculation and theft aside, let’s hope that what is being done to stop this disease is not too little too late.
I just can’t imagine going through our Mexican way of life without being able to serenade your honey in the words of Julietta Venegas, “Yo te quiero con limón y sal.”