Mexican Gangs Go After New Target: High-Priced Corn

Organized crime gangs equipped with automatic weapons and tractor trailers are branching out into raids on huge grain silos, in a sign of growing lawlessness in parts of Mexico’s north.

Attacks on warehouses and cargo trucks have multiplied into a near-weekly affair in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, where one of the worst cold snaps in decades wiped out corn and vegetable plots in February, pushing up prices of the remaining harvest and making it more attractive to thieves.

The unusual crime wave in major agricultural-exporting states is a new headache for the Mexican government struggling to maintain the country’s image as a top emerging market.

Mexico’s national warehousing association AAGEDE said the spike in thefts began a year or two ago, but its members are only recently coming forward and many are still too scared to report details on the number or scale of the incidents.

Jose Jimenez, director of Mexican storage company ALMER, told of one robbery last year in a tiny town in the central state of Zacatecas where an armed commando emptied a warehouse of 900 tonnes of beans, worth around $750,000, loading up 30 trucks over the course of an entire day.

The gang left five tonnes of beans with local townspeople to keep them quiet and the police did not show up until two days later, he said.

Many warehousers are boosting spending on security, adding fortress-like protections to their installations, AAGEDE’s director Raul Millan said.

“We are building war-like trenches around our warehouses… and guard houses, like a medieval castle,” Jimenez said. The company had to increase security spending by up to five per cent, he said.

Authorities have made little progress in identifying the culprits of the large-scale robberies. Some producers speculate drug gangs may be using money earned from the sale of stolen grains to bankroll criminal activities.

Robbers can easily sell truckloads of seed and corn to intermediaries and big-city markets as buyers ask few questions about where the goods came from.

“They come in groups of 20 or 30 masked men with their own trailers,” Jesus Palomir of Sinaloa’s agricultural producers association CAADES, said. “It’s very well organized.”

In March gunmen locked a warehouse owner in a room and carted off vehicles full of corn in the Sinaloan town of Los Mochis, local police said. Media reports said the thieves made off with 250 tonnes of grain.

State police have documented five similar cases so far this year but say many more are probably never reported.

“Gangs are robbing bags of seed from producers in warehouses and in the fields,” said Adalberto Mustieles, head of farm services in Sinaloa’s state government. “They beat up the farmers and steal their trucks.”

Australia To Legislate Carbon Farming Scheme

An Australian scheme to generate farm-and forest-linked carbon credits for sale to polluting firms will start slowly when it comes online later this year, as the government struggles to garner support for a national carbon price seen as crucial to the plan’s long-term success.

The government aims for Parliament to pass the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) in time for its expected start on July 1. Approval would usher in the world’s first nationally legislated market for carbon credits from farm projects and be a boost for carbon forestry firms.

But for the scheme to succeed, analysts said, Parliament would also have to pass matching laws that set a national price on carbon emissions from industry, to underpin demand from polluters.

“The government has not explicitly said this (the use of CFI offsets) will be included in any future carbon price. But the expectation is that it will,” said Martijn Wilder, head of Baker &McKenzie’s global environmental markets practice, who helped advise the government on the draft laws.

Big polluters could buy the offsets to meet mandatory emissions cuts, giving them another way to manage their carbon risks and drive investment in projects that cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Until that happens, the initiative will only serve a small voluntary market for offsets and limited international demand for offsets from forestry projects.

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