Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Poor farmers, rich narcos: Marijuana, the only safe investment

Rio Doce. 8-27-12.

Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat.

Note from translator: This article appeared yesterday in Rio Doce. The original Spanish version is posted on the Forum, but I thought it deserved wider exposure because it helps describe the social and economic reality in the Golden Triangle. --un vato.

A trip to Chapo Guzman country.

Close to 6:00 p.m. in the afternoon on Tuesday, August 21,  a young mountain resident about 20 years old, came in on an ATV,  with more style than if he had arrived mounted on an alazan (chestnut sorrel horse). He stopped under a thick live oak tree, turned off the motor, climbed off and slowly walked towards the house. He had an AK-47 rifle hanging on his shoulder, a two-way radio on his chest and a .38 Super pistol tucked into his waist.  

A dog came out to greet him. He was almost walking into the portal of the house when he bumped into the journalist, whom he regarded with mistrust. His skin tanned by the sun, the young man gripped the rifle with his right hand, slowed down and, not knowing what to do in the presence of a stranger, he seemed to hesitate while he looked all around him. This is when the guide who had taken the journalist into the bowels of the Sierra Madre Occidental (West Sierra Madre Mountain Range) returned with a glass of water in his hand and, with surprising intimacy, greeted him:

"How's it going, Lupe, what do you say?" he exclaimed as he came forward to greet him.

The tension lessened, but not the mistrust.

"He's a journalist who came to do some work about the weed... Jose already knows, so you can tell him all about this business out here," explained the guide.

"Ah!," murmured "Lupe", who still not quite convinced  stared at the journalist, although he finally shook his hand; more out of inertia than out of conviction.

A little later another 15 mountain farmers arrived, also riding ATVs and also carrying AK-47 rifles. One by one, they climbed off their ATVs like a death squad in the mountains and, curious, surrounded the journalist.

The guide, with greetings and jokes, began to reassure the newly-arrived farmers, until three more ATVs arrived. One of them, the tallest, wearing a bulletproof vest, a cuerno de chivo (AK 47 rifle) on each shoulder and two radios, walked towards the journalist, with what appeared to be his security people by his side. The guide, with surprising familiarity, went to meet him halfway.

"Jose ... this is the journalist I was telling you about; he came up to the mountains to do some work...well, the  reality about the farmers who plant marijuana: how they live, what they eat, what they hope for and how things are not what people believe," he told him. 

Jose looked at the journalist with a certain mistrust, but he extended his hand to greet him, but not before warning the guide:

"Well, he can't use names or say where we are, and he can't take pictures, because you're the first one we'll come looking for."

"He knows that if he pisses outside the hole, he'll never see the end of it...and, well, I know that I won't see the end of it," said the guide, half joking and half seriously.

Everybody laughed with amusement at the guide's comment. The ice was broken.

You have to make a living

To live in the mountains is to live in total abandonment, and to be always "at the mercy of God." If you don't kill a jackrabbit, a deer, a cochi jabali (peccary), you rarely eat meat, unless you take something up from Culiacan. But in addition to food, you also have to pay for electricity, oil, clothing, shoes, school supplies for the children, and although one can plant beans, squash and tomatoes, money is indispensable, at least for the basics.

But there is no work, not a single industry to create jobs, so it's difficult to get ahead. That's why people have not stopped planting marijuana-- despite the signs of civilization that are coming closer, like pavement and electricity-- (it's) the only product they can be sure will sell.

And, there's no "right" age for planting marijuana; it can be (done by) an eight year old child as well as a 60-year old adult,  and growing it is not easy.

Every day, farmers of all ages get up at 6:00 in the morning, have a breakfast of eggs, beans or "whatever there may be," and start a hard, eight hour work day under the sun. 

In a place that can only be reached by air, or after a five hour trip-- starting from Culiacan, the municipal seat-- on roads, gullies and paths that run on the edges of curves and steep cliffs, the farmers get ready to go up to the most inhospitable part in that area, where they have their plots.

Right at dawn, they get up, eat, take their weapons, machetes, knives, lunch, and climb on their ATVs, beginning a journey of several miles of uphill trails, crumbling roads, rocks and pine trees. In the old days, they say, they went on horseback,  but they had to feed the animal, now they get there faster on ATVs, and they only need gasoline and the tires changed every six months.

"Tires don't last long because there's so many rocks," one of them explains. 

At the top, the farmers lay down their weapons, the lunch, and they go into the marijuana plants which were planted in June, and so begins caring for the crop.


The "desmachadero"

As with any other crop, marijuana requires a lot of care and dedication. From August to September, the farmers undertake the process known as the "desmachadero", which consists of identifying the male ("macho") marijuana plants and cut them down to prevent  pollination of the female marijuana plants, otherwise the crop is ruined.

"Because, if you leave the male plants, it produces little balls, and these little balls release a dust that gets into the "colitas" (tails, the flowering part of the female plant). If that happens, instead of  harvesting marijuana "colitas", you harvest seed, and that's where the crop is ruined," explains "Pancho", a farmer that has a plot of more than 50 square yards (4,500 square feet).

Like him, every farmer plants his own little plot,  from a 14 year old boy to a 70 year old man. They help each other, and if one of them falls behind on the "desmachadero", the rest of the farmers get together to help. 

The search for male plants can last up to three weeks, and it's done row by row. As it grows, the plant starts to show what will be the marijuana "colita", which is what people smoke, or whether it will develop the little balls of pollen. But even after the male plants have been eliminated, the farmer has to keep taking care of the plots, not just because a male plant may appear or because a female plant may turn male, that is to say, it will start to produce balls of pollen,  but to pull up weeds that grow among the plants and to eliminate insects. In addition, cows and deer go into the plots and eat the marijuana plants.

"The cows and the deer that eat the marijuana get all crazy, but they also ruin the product," explains a farmer that has been coming from Culiacan for eight years to plant the drug. 

From the city to the mountains

Many people from Culiacan go into the mountains to plant "mota" (marijuana). According to them, "there are no jobs in the city." Up in the mountains, they go to relatives, or through a trusted person who recommended them.

If they work hard like the rest of the farmers, they come back and after some time, they are given access to land so they can grow their own marijuana.  In cases like these, once he harvests the marijuana, the deal is 50/50, that is, the owner of the land provides the plot, the seed, fertilizer, room and board, in exchange for him taking care of the crop. Once it is harvested, they split the profit (50/50).

"If we get 150 kilos (330 lbs) we get 75 and 75," explained a young farmer, while he was spraying his land, a plot of about 200 meters square (about 1,800 square ft.) Like "Lico", many other city dwellers go to the mountains and up there, in the most inhospitable part, where there is no cell phone service, they remain out of touch, hoping the cultivation of marijuana works out and leaves them a little cash.

The man.

Once the marijuana is harvested, in mid-October, and hoping the Army doesn't hit them and destroys their fields, the farmers can only deal with one man. This person, they said, buys all the marijuana grown in the mountains from everybody, (paying) up to 800 pesos per kilo (about $62.00), if the weed is good, but if it contains a lot of seeds, the most they get is about 200 (pesos per kilo, about $15.00).

"The thing is, nobody else can buy marijuana around here, just this man," says a farmer.

"This man, is he Chapo Guzman?" he's asked.

The farmer hesitates before he answers. He looks all around, and finally explains that the mountain belongs to El Chapo, but he's not the one who deals with them, but somebody who surely knows him and who probably sells everything to El Chapo Guzman. This man is the one who takes the weed with him, only he knows where he takes it. We only grow it, and if we lose it or the Army destroys it, well, there's no money.

Armed to the teeth.

The farmers in the mountains always go around armed. It's de rigueur. And although they may lay down their AK-47 in the shade of a pine tree while they're working, under no circumstances will  they take their pistol off their waist. They sleep with it, they wake up with it, they die with it if necessary, but they don't take it off.  They say it's to defend themselves from mountain lions, cats, snakes and any other animal that they run into, or in case they bump into a deer or a "cochi jabali" (peccary). In that case, the shots are quick.

--Why do you carry the pistol inside the house?
--In case something comes up, explained an old farmer who's lived all  his life in the mountains.

As was explained (to this journalist), fights in the mountains are not with fists, but with gunfire. People joke, and all of a sudden somebody doesn't like a comment, and they get their irons out and start shooting.

When somebody kills another person, the victim's family wants satisfaction and comes and kills the murderer. The (murderer's) family also wants satisfaction, and goes looking for the person who killed their relative. Entire families are eliminated in that manner, and the feuds and the killing goes on  from generation to generation.

"It's just that there can be no fix because there's blood involved," explained the farmer, giving his reason why everybody goes around armed with weapons.

The hope.

Resting their bodies and the sun, the farmers get together every night to joke a little and forget the day's hardship. After almost three months of labor, fatigue begins to weaken them, but their hopes of getting a little money and going to see their families begin to grow. The only thing they hope for is that soldiers won't come and destroy their crops.

"If you get about 200 kilos (440 lbs) of "mota", well, you're doing well, but it's money that's got to last until we plant again, because the truth is, mister, life is hard around here," explained the oldest farmer as he snugged his cuerno de chivo on his shoulder. It was time to rest; tomorrow, another day in the sun awaited him.  

Notes on marijuana

-- The marijuana cultivation cycle is 125 days, the first stage being germination, the next 15 days its sprouting stage -- when it comes out of the ground--, and the next 70 (days) the vegetative (growing) stage, and the final 35 days, the reproductive stage, explains the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

--According to SEDENA (Mexican National Defense Secretariat), just this past July alone, the Army located 494 plots of marijuana in Sinaloa and Durango, which amounted to 59.48 hectares (about 147 acres). Likewise, 3,053 kilograms (6,716 lbs) of unprocessed marijuana,  176 kilos (387 lbs) of packaged marijuana and 227.6 kilos (455 lbs) of cannabis seed were seized.

--According to Sylvia Longmire, former officer and special investigator in the U.S. Air Force, trafficking and sales of marijuana makes up 60% of Mexican cartel profits.

--From the World Drugs Report:  in 2006 --the year that President Felipe Calderon's war on drugs began-- Mexico was the largest cannabis producer in the world, producing up to 7,400 tons.

--For several decades, the United States has been the world's principal cannabis consumer.


  1. This is awesome, i love read stuff like this good post -7guero

  2. Great article. Really liked it, what surprises me is they even mention Chapo. I bet it is beautiful up there, rugged landscapes, I'd like to write a story or see a movie about a story set there, amidst the growers, farmers, and cartel workers. Like a 'Legends of The Fall',

    1. Just wait. It is coming. Things are always in the making...

  3. -According to Sylvia Longmire, former officer and special investigator in the U.S. Air Force, trafficking and sales of marijuana makes up 60% of Mexican cartel profits.

    Do you think that 60% of Mexican cartels profit being from marijuana is a accurate evaluation?

  4. Well considering all the marijuana sold in the U.S and MX and how easy it is to get it might be but I doubt it I don't think the other 40% profit is made up of cocaine and crystal its probably the other way around but marijuana is the cheapest but the most sold, cocaine is the big dollar ,and so is crystal

    1. Their buying the pot for $32 a pound thats huge profit to loss margins. Very little transportation involved for the short distance. Vs coke being bought in Colombia and shipped threw the americas. When they lose a 2 ton shipment of coke its a big chunk of change

  5. It would be great to see a documentary of this. But will most likely not happen.

  6. Hell no, is %60 of their profits is weed. It makes zero economic sense. Especially when in so many states it's no longer a big deal, and no true pot head smokes that crap unless it's all that is around. Weed is like beer, and people like what 'flavor' is best for them. And 7400 tons of weed is all? BS. They have found farms that would produce half that in one pop, and that is the one they probably gave up to let the heat dissipate. 50 pounds of mexican pot is about a cubic yard in size and is pretty cheap at bulk prices. A kilo of meth or coke is small, far harder to detect, and yields so much more profit.

    But a good story for sure. I'd really like to know more about the socio aspect of their lives, where they came from, the crap they have seen and have to put up with.... These people are far more interesting than the Kardashians!! And if the US does finally give up the fight on pot (meth should never be legal), your going to see these cartels having to make up the lost revenue streams, and who do you think they are going to lean on? These poor farmers. Kidnapping and extortion will be way worse than it is now to the point where families will be broke from the first payment, and then they wont have anything for the next person that gets picked up or targeted. Sad. But hey, at least they are taking pride in their work and doing it outside in the clean air. Sad state.

    1. Without the large sums of drug profits less people will be in there pocket. You cant fund an army when your broke.

  7. Yes it is true 60 %. And us number one consumer. HARD CONCRETE FACTS!
    Ask any one in your inner circle 4 out of 5 people you know habe,tried, or is.doing marijuana recreationaly. It takes not alot of.time to grow. And since its a micro business plant it happens to do have more revenue then.coce does. Involves less lost of profit compare to other.processed drugs.
    Hurts go get.the truth doesn't it?

  8. I winter in Mazatlan and on occasion see large farm families ordering extensive and expensive meals in various restaurants. I've always nudged the wife and commented that I doubt they're harvesting corn.

  9. It's good to know that the farmers know each other, are organized and armed. This prevents poachers like the z's from going up there and bullying them outright bcuz if they do they know they are in for a fight.

  10. This is a very accurate portrayal of the Golden Triangle. I've been around there for 34 years and how much freedom I have around the narcos. Many of them I met when they were young kids and now they are 30 something with cuernos, but they know that I keep my mouth shut and that is the key to survival. I love the life of the traditional Tarahumara and the old mestizo ranchers and they have taught me so much...friendship,sharing,the beauty of life on the edge with hardly a pot to piss in. This old geezer will go to the tomb and never forget that beautiful life. We always have a good laugh when we talk about gringoes taking a vacation. We all, including me, say we get to take a vacation and retire when we die and we arrive in la tumba. Ni Modo! Before that let's listen to lots of Nortena and banda and celebrate the life that the creator bestowed on us. Yo me cuento con the gente de La Sierra Madre de Chihuahua y Sinaloa. Muchas gracias amigos de la alma.

  11. ahh Blood Feuds, i thought it was rare until it hit my family.

  12. un vato i consider you a true vato

  13. Growing SHWAG isnt gonna get them no profits.. They need to step it up and start growing HYDRO.. That's where the REAL money is at

    1. Yeat they're gonna buy 40,000/acre equipment when they cant even pay the 15,000 to buy it. Use common sense man, no offense.

  14. Good article.... Good work bro...

  15. Would of loved to be up there with the Mountain Folk,growing herbs and spices and everything nices!!

  16. Most true but not weed its opium (gomeros) now..ppl dont talk there the intro is bull..journalist dont go there or are allowed... they live well they just like to spend there money on beer..they cant go around spending money like crazy cuz in those montains you dont want to floss..compradores stop to check on progress leave some money for fertilizer supplies.. they tell them the seize of packaged they want it.. if going by land or sea they oil up the package... the Cessna drops at landing strips.. taxi cesswill stop ther

  17. Mexico is such a beautiful country, rich in resources, culture, talented people, friendly people. My girl friend and I used to jump in the car and travel 8 to 12 hours across the country, stopping at all the little towns and taking in the culture. Absolutely beautiful in every respect. It's a bloody shame the cartel's fuck it all up. I wished they would switch to supporting tourism, they could still make a bundle of money.

    1. Damn true. They're traitors sell outs to Mexico.

  18. If i could i would love to go give them a shit load of AK47,WHITE LIGHTNING,(cross of White Widow/Northern Lights strains)BLUE CHEESE SEEDS,all female,and all good yield and strength.
    I dont care what anyone thinks on here,what wrong are these farmers doing,there is nothing else they can do to take care of their families.They have a right to provide for their family like everyone else on here.It is a plant that grows naturally like tobacco,but idiot politicians and paper barons made it illegal for selfish reasons.I only wish the farmers could cut out the hundred middle men,which will also be jealously guarded against.No doubt there will be people here who dont agree with it?Conditioned mind set by media and sheep.

  19. August 28, 2012 9:06 PM .
    This" old geezer"will go to the tomb.?
    Hermano,where did you here that saying geezer?
    I am in the UK,and thought it was quintessentially an anglo word?Its funny to hear you say it thats all.Senore,it sounds like they got the idea,none of this eternal search for new phones,tv,car,all that crap.Dayum i wish i was with you takin it easy with none of this city crap,buildings going up every 5 minutes.I can dig it senore.Saludos.

  20. the growing cycle is wrong its probably 35 days for vegetative and 70 for flowering (reproductive) it takes at least 8 weeks to flower (no way around) it then maybe another 2-3 weeks to cure it so that's about 70 days

    what amazes me is why don't these farmers make a couple cloner's and invest in some t5 lights and use mothers to clone the females before planting. not only would it increase the quality but it would double the production because at least half the plants planted turn out to be male i'm sure

    ~~~el spaceio~~

  21. Prices are plummeting and thats with smokable weed.

  22. Occidental is western oriental eastern.

  23. Yes sir awsome article!! It takes me back to when my grandpappi used to cook meth in the arizona desert. There wasn't much work in the casagrand area then. He learned my daddi how to cook it and package it. When i was ten i learned it was great. We've been doing it for years . So i guess it makes it ok ?? Right?? I mean we sell it to a dope dealer . He's the one breaking the law.. Not us. Right?? That is a truly pathetic way to sugarcoat one of the biggest reasons there are half a million dead or missing. The only idiots happy are the shithead stoners always day dreamin about shit they could of been or want to be. Ftp

  24. RE: the 60% figure.
    Longmire and everyone else that quotes 60% mot likely got the figure from a RAND CORP study that is 3 years old. The 60% was used heavily in the proponents campaign to leagalize mota in California in 2010, and it was derived from the same study.

    Alot has happened since the study including diversifications, but it remains the number one preferred dug of US users and THAT is estimated to be 60% of all drugs used in the US, t this time.

    I think legalization of mota will happen in California very soon as it almost passed last time on the ballot and more voters are now in favor of it.

  25. "The only idiots happy are the shithead stoners always day dreamin about shit they could of been or want to be. Ftp"
    You sound bitter there old boy,toke a bit.
    Oh shit,here is the first clown talkin out his ass.
    Yes sir,have you ever tried any drug?No,just pharmaceutical.Oh that's ok,cause that is"legal"So every person who takes any drug is a stoner?Man,we can make anything illegal,and clowns like this would abide.The most destructive,most trouble causing,is without any doubt alcohol.But its legal,so you sir will use it.Everyone who drinks alcohol is a trouble causing alcoholic?I know,sound familiar?Oh,its like your argument."But alcohol doesn't cause drug wars"thats because sheep like you think it is ok and is legal"Spouting off about subjects you know absolutely nothing about.

  26. "but it remains the number one preferred dug of US users"
    The US,LA,is the epicenter of the best marijuana's grown on this planet.It is only the availability and cheap price of Mexican that makes this a going concern.It also allows everyone to bang on about the US"demand"for drugs,without mentioning that it is Mexico who floods the US with it and other drugs.Imagine if Mexico did not have this cash stream?It would magnify every other crime there.

  27. what amazes me is why don't these farmers make a couple cloner's and invest in some t5 lights and use mothers to clone the females before planting. not only would it increase the quality but it would double the production because at least half the plants planted turn out to be male i'm sure..

    ************They would if they could-The problem is there is no electricity up in those hills,plus even if there was-It's another expense to pay that takes away from the profits.As for using stronger clones- The Cali-Kush hybreds are hard to grow outdoors in that particular region of the Golden triangle. The humidity is too high-the strains that are being planted are not that strong in terms of thc content, but at least it grows. The only way to make more money and have less size is to make hash-its stronger and more expensive- or concentrates-they extract the hash even more...

  28. @8/29 9:29AM,
    It's truely sad that your mind set is such that the only way you think one can support their family is through a criminal enterprise. These farmers are worse off being involved in the business because the possibility will always exist that the military will lay waste to their crops. Plus, according to the article it seems the potential for internal problems among the farmers is also a risk! The question remains, how do you think these farmers are going to support their families, when they are killed or sent to prison? On another note, your comment suggest that politicians and others have made it illegal due to selfishness? Really? If mota were legal than these farmers wouldn't be making much of a profit because the price would be too low to live off of! You have a warped mind and I pity you because without knowing you...I already know you are destined for incarceration.

  29. Hate the story shows how dumb people are 30 a pound when you grow it in mx goes too us and sold for 3 4 5 hundred dollas farmers gettin pimped by chapo I would die before I put my life on the line for the next man who pays me in peanuts cant feel sorry for farmers or chapo the least he can do is make sure his producers havr a decent meal too eat stand for somthing or fall for nothing

  30. "The only way to make more money and have less size is to make hash-its stronger and more expensive- or concentrates-they extract the hash even more"
    True enough bro,there is a definite shortage of good hash.Maybe more labor intensive as well.But they could try it just as a by product see how it goes,they wont lose nothing really.But,after hours or whatever in the sun,i guess they just want to get home and chill.One of them should take a trip to Morocco,generations of makers there,they teach them,and they good to go.I wonder if these guys have tried Bubble Hash?Some of that shit blows your bean off,and pretty easy to make.

  31. "Hate the story shows how dumb people are 30 a pound when you grow it in mx goes too us and sold for 3 4 5 hundred"
    How do the farmers get it over genius?Guzman got the infrastructure the man power,get it?

  32. Great article, can't believe what it sells for in Mexico compared to how much they sell for per pound here in US.

  33. You think that the cocoa leaf can grow in the Golden Triangle? Why doesn't somebody try and see if it may grow?

  34. Is there any possible way if someone can grow coca leaf on the Golden Triangle? Can coca leaf grow there? Maybe it might lessen the violence?


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