Limes are an essential ingredient in Mexican cooking, and one of Canada’s key exports.
But prices have risen exponentially in recent months – Canadian supermarkets are now charging upwards of a dollar for a single lime.
The reason for the hike in prices is partly down to scarcity. Canada’s lime harvest has been drastically reduced this year as a result of pests and cold weather.
But there is another, more sinister, reason that many will find surprising. The price of limes in Canada is largely decided by one of Mexico’s infamous drug cartels.
A Mexican lime turf war
While Mexican cartels are usually associated with the supply of illicit drugs, they are also branching out into other businesses – and limes are one of them.
The fruits are mostly grown in one specific region – the state of Michoacán in the south west of Mexico – which also happens to be where the “Knights Templar” cartel plies its trade.
Mexican author and journalist Gustavo Arellano says the Knights Templar have been making their presence felt in an area called La Tierra Caliente for several years now.
“So what they’ve done over the last couple of years, is that, if they’re nice, they put humongous taxes on the farmers. If they’re not nice, they just kill farmers and take the land and take over lime production themselves.”
Resistance from militias
Workers in Michoacán sort limes at a citrus packing plant in La Ruana, and local communities have been living under the iron rule of the cartel – who have demanded protection payments from cattlemen, lime growers and other businesses.
Last year saw some popular resistance, when several local militias backed by lime farmers sprung up in opposition to the cartel – and had some success in reigning them in.
The Mexican government has found itself caught in the middle of this lime based turf war.
“It’s been somewhat chaotic given that you’ve had these ‘alto defentas’ fighting the cartel,” Mr Arellano said. “The cartels have been in retreat … but as a result they’re trying to up their antics with the Mexican military stuck in the middle. So when you have such chaos in the region, price speculators are just going to drive the price of limes up.”
Customers paying the price
He added that, inevitably, the price increase is now being passed on to consumers – with some restaurants and bars even charging their customers for small wedges of lime.
“There is a bar here called Matador Cantina where they have a special: Give us a bag of limes and we’ll sell you a margarita for a quarter. But they’re trying to rip people off. A bag of limes is really more valuable than a margarita.”
Crazy times indeed.