Marijuana plots in Baja California, north Mexico, are reportedly becoming smaller and more difficult to detect, in contrast to the huge plantations previously found in the area, indicating that growers are under increased pressure from the security forces.
According to Mexico’s Defense Ministry (SEDENA), the number of discoveries of marijuana and poppy cultivations in Baja California state has shot up this year, with 301 marijuana plantations found by the security forces so far in 2012, compared to a total of 178 plantations discovered in 2011.
However, the plantations found so far this year are equivalent to just 50 hectares of marijuana, whereas last year 120 hectares was found in one plot alone. This is an indication that the crop is being grown in smaller plots and is more widely dispersed across the state, according to El Universal.
The head of military operations in Baja California told the newspaper that along with being more dispersed, cultivations are increasingly being grown close to cities and along highways in order to avoid detection.
Baja California has been an epicenter of Mexico’s marijuana and poppy production since the early 20th century. Last year, the army discovered a mega-plantation of 121 hectares of marijuana in the state, which allegedly belonged to Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. At the time it was described as the biggest marijuana plantation ever discovered in Mexico, although there are records of an ever larger plantation — a reported 540 hectares — discovered in Chihuahua state in 1984. Some 134 tons of marijuana were seized in a single operation in Tijuana, Baja California, in 2010, in the largest reported seizure of its kind.
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The military sources quoted in the El Universal article state that Baja California’s marijuana plantations are not under the control of criminal organizations, but rather belong to small-scale drug traffickers who are “trying their luck in northern Mexico.” Most of the workers who tend to the marijuana plots come from other states, including Michoacan, Sinaloa, Nayarit and Guerrero, the report adds.
The criminal group that has traditionally dominated Baja California, known as the Tijuana Cartel or the Arellano Felix Organization, has been debilitated in recent years. The fact that marijuana plots are getting smaller offers concrete evidence that marijuana growers in Baja California may also be coming under pressure.
This same phenomenon has been observed in Colombia, where the average size of a coca field dropped from 2 hectares in 2000 to 0.67 hectares in 2011, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Coca growers in Colombia began cultivating the illicit crop in ever smaller fields — or hidden among other crops — in response to increased eradication efforts.
According to estimates by the United States, marijuana production in Mexico increased in 2008 and 2009. However, the Mexican Army has said that marijuana production is now dropping due to a severe drought in the country. Wildfires and record low temperatures in some key growing areas are believed to have produced significantly reduced marijuana harvests in 2011.
Mexico is a producer of marijuana, heroin and synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, and a transit country for cocaine. Last year the government reported seizing 909 tons of marijuana and eradicating 7,478 hectares of the crop.