Skip to main content

Limes: Mexico's new green gold

By Nick Parker, CNN
April 10, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Limes are in a spiral of hyperinflation, with prices doubling every month this year
  • Those hardest hit are working class Mexicans, who rely on limes for their dishes
  • Profits are being squeezed and the pain may soon be felt beyond Mexico

(CNN) -- Dressed in a white cowboy hat and shirt in the merciless sun, 63-year-old Juan Leana Malpica proudly pulls a branch down in his lime grove and cups a fruit. His limes, he says, set themselves apart by their juiciness.

He has been growing the fruit for the last 12 years and has never experienced a time of such upheaval.

Officially, lime prices are in a spiral of hyperinflation, the national average jumping at a monthly average of around 50% this year.

Leana Malpica says he is receiving an even wider margin for his produce in the state of Morelos. He pinpoints a variety of factors in Mexico for the soaring prices.

"There's the devastation caused by a citrus disease," he says. "Then there is climate change. With the arrival of winter there has been a cold snap in nearby states. And what I feel is most devastating are the price speculators."

Another factor is the continuing violence in the state of Michoacan, a top lime producer. Vigilante groups there are battling drug cartels, with the federal government caught in the middle. Many growers can't -- or won't -- put trucks on the road.

Those hardest hit are inevitably working class Mexicans, who rely on the staple for drinks, garnishes and ingredients for most dishes.

"I normally buy two kilos," one shopper at a market in Mexico City tells me. "But now I buy a half and only use them for absolute essentials."

Mexico is the world's largest lime producer and export markets have also felt the brunt of rising costs. Some U.S. airlines have announced they are restricting the service of limes on flights and Mexican restaurants are absorbing greater costs.

U.S.-based Rosa Mexicano is a high-end chain with 19 locations around the world. They buy more than one million limes a year.

"I can tell you this time last year we were paying approximately $36 a case," says manager Jay Holmes. "The first delivery this morning was $110 a case. We've not passed that onto the guest and don't plan to."

So while you may not be paying more for your margarita right now, profits are being squeezed. If lime prices stay the same, Rosa Mexicano estimates it will have to pay an additional $650,000 this year.

For Mexican producers like Juan Leana Malpica who have not been hit by shortages, all this represents a big payday. He plans to use the profits to expand, upgrading his fertilizer and irrigation systems.

The Mexican government, too, is trying to boost supply. Although the scale of the lime crisis is unique this year, the early months traditionally see a shortfall.

"We have just generated a technology in Morelos which will launch in September," says Agriculture Ministry official Rafael Ambriz Cervantes.

"We will trim the branches of lime trees and immediately apply nitrogen to induce flowering. And this flowering in the month of October will produce limes in February, March and April."

Consumers and businesses will have to wait until 2015 to see how effective the program is. The hope is that the brand of a key Mexican crop has not been tarnished.

WATCH MORE: Why it's time to buy in the emerging markets

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea -- the three countries facing the biggest health crisis -- are also facing huge bills to try and contain the virus.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1316 GMT (2116 HKT)
Twitter has lost its position in the top 20 coolest brands for the first time in three years.
September 25, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
As the crisis in Iraq escalates, CNN looks at how Iraq could crack down on ISIS' oil riches under the guidance of its new oil minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0842 GMT (1642 HKT)
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is Turkey's new president . So can he revitalize its economic fortunes?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Experts share their tips on cities they see as emerging financial hubs...they're not where you think.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1340 GMT (2140 HKT)
Growing numbers of us are willing to serve as bank, teacher or travel agent to people we have never met, and entrust them to serve us in turn.
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
The European Union is stepping in to save its dairy from going sour.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1236 GMT (2036 HKT)
Europe's deteriorating relationship with Russia has hit the region's growth, even before new food sanctions begin to bite.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for people and businesses to get smarter about preventing them.
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
Airstrikes, rebels seizing control of oil fields, plus a severe refugee crisis are a recipe for market panic. So why are Iraq oil prices stable?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1124 GMT (1924 HKT)
Peer-to-peer finance lets businesses bypass bank loans. Creative companies with quirky ideas find new lending models advantageous.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Evidence points to pro-Russian separatists as perpetrators of the attack and Vladimir Putin is facing questions, David Clark writes.
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 0952 GMT (1752 HKT)
CNN's Jim Boulden looks on the future of online shopping.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1440 GMT (2240 HKT)
The biggest Ebola outbreak in history is taking its toll in Western Africa, hitting some of West Africa's most vulnerable economies.
ADVERTISEMENT