Feb 162012

In a previous post, we looked at The geography of cacao production in Mexico. and saw how the area under cultivation and production have both fallen sharply since 2003. This post examines two recent projects that aim to reverse this recent trend of a steep decline in Mexico’s cacao production.

Major organic cacao project

The Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa) has several projects designed to rejuvenate Mexico’s cacao-growing sector. These include the production of young plants of high-yielding varieties, primarily in Tabasco for use in several southern states. Propagation method is either via grafting or via cuttings. (Tabasco is a leading centre for the development of tropical crops such as cacao, coconut palm and oil palm.)

In addition, Sagarpa is introducing improved methods of cultivation, harvesting and processing. The Secretariat is supporting a multi-phase plan to turn Mexico into the leading producer of organic cacao in the Americas. In the early phases, Maya Biosana will plant one million cacao trees to create 500 hectares (1200 acres) of irrigated orchards in 12 communities near Chetumal in Quintana Roo. The plan is to follow-up with similar numbers of new trees on additional land annually for another three years. The trees are expected to yield 2.4 metric tons of cacao per hectare (destined for high quality chocolates) and provide up to 2,000 additional jobs. [Note that the project is not without its critics, and we intend to write more about this in a future post].

NGO support for cacao producer cooperatives in Tabasco

One specific example of a project helping cacao farmers is the Chontalpa Cacao Presidium, a project initiated by the Slow Food Foundation. Tabasco’s most productive region for cacao is Chontalpa, which has ideal conditions for cacao cultivation and is the area where the criolla variety of cacao is thought to have originated.

Traditionally, farmers in the Chontalpa area have sold their cacao to intermediaries, who then market it. However, in recent years, groups (co-operatives) of farmers have been formed, enabling farmers to cut out the intermediaries and get higher prices for their harvest. The cooperatives allow joint purchasing and other economies of scale.

Serious flooding of cacao-growing regions in 2007 made it difficult for farmers to harvest and trade the cacao they had grown, and also helped spread the fungus Monilia roreri in their plantations. Many farmers gave up, sold their land and left for a new life elsewhere.

The Chontalpa Cacao Presidium was launched in September 2008 to help farmers rebuild the sector and introduce organic certification and other modern developments. Organic certification was obtained, which led to higher prices on the local market. The quality of beans was improved by using better post-harvest fermentation and drying methods.

This Chontalpa project currently benefits 18 producers, members of cooperatives in the Cárdenas and Centro municipalities. It helps farmers market the cacao directly in Mexico (and more recently in Italy) without the need for any intermediaries. The long-term objective is to establish a facility to produce semi-processed cocoa products.


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