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Assessing the Vulnerability of Agrobiodiversity to Illegal-Drug Cultivation and its Related Violence. An Approach from the Prisons of Oaxaca, Mexico

Authors: Gabriel Tamariz*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: agrobiodiversity, illegal drug crops, Mexico, violence, vulnerability
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The cultivation of three illegalized psychoactive species –cannabis, opium poppy and coca– and the subsequent militarization of the landscapes in which they are grown have become relevant drivers of political and socio-ecological change, including the death of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions of people. For millennia and to date, before and after their prohibition, these crops have been mainly grown by smallholder farmers whose livelihoods have depended on the biological diversity of local food and agricultural systems –known as agrobiodiversity. Accordingly, this paper analyses how the cultivation of illegal-drug crops and its related violence impact agrobiodiversity. The study is based on 76 structured/semi-structured interviews with imprisoned farmers, middlemen, and soldiers in one female prison and three male prisons in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Oaxaca is a global agrobiodiversity hotspot and a region where cannabis and opium poppy have been cultivated since the 1970s in approximately 75% of municipalities. The geographic heterogeneity in this case study allows the analysis of different predominant processes across multiple and contrasting sites. I argue that illegal-drug crops and native-food crops are positively associated until a threshold of violence is crossed, although with a remarkable exception. Drawing from socio-ecological vulnerability theory, I analyze the spatial and decision-making processes that favor and oppose crossing the threshold of violence.

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