Cacao production in Tabasco. Cacao production in Tabasco.

Chocolate demand rises but Mexico cacao production declines

Chocolate. It’s loved around the world but there simply isn’t enough of it. What’s worse for Mexico is that cacao production is dismal despite the fact that it is one of the Mesoamerican countries where it originated.

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Production was as high as nearly 50,000 tonnes in 2003, but today it’s down to between 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes. One important reason for the decline is frosty pod rot, a disease which attacks the fruit of the cacao tree.

As well, many farmers are said to have replaced cacao with other crops with greater profit potential, or sold their land to Pemex.

Worldwide, demand outstripped supply in 2013-2014 for the second year in a row, despite record production in Cote d’Ivoire, one of world’s main producers. Indeed, it is Africa where most of the world’s chocolate originates, which doesn’t sit well with chocolatier Gerardo Sánchez Hernández, director of Best Chocolate World in Puebla.

Its cultivation, he says, originated in Mesoamerica and “was considered a delicacy of the gods in ancient times.” Lamentably, he notes, most of it now comes from Ghana, Tanzania, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica.

Mexico’s production “barely covers domestic consumption, which sadly to say means the country must import it from other nations.”

Sánchez Hernández attributes this to climate change and price volatility at the international level. Chef Alejandra Díaz, director of the school of gastronomy at the University of Puebla, blames lower production on the growers’ sale of their land to Pemex rather than engage in a the risk of cultivation.

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The federal government has implemented a program designed to increase production from the current level of 350 kilos per hectare to at least one tonne. The Agriculture Secretariat also says studies are under way to determine if the number of trees grown per hectare can be increased from 400 to more than 1,100.

The international chocolate firm Hershey’s boosted its presence in Mexico in 2012 by launching the Mexico Cocoa Project, a 10-year, $2.8 million program intended to distribute hundreds of thousands of disease-resistant cacao trees in Chiapas.

But it is in Tabasco where most of Mexico’s cacao production takes place, and has done so for 3,000 years, according to Geo-Mexico. Later it gained prominence among the Maya and the Aztecs and had a key role in both the culture and the economy.

Among indigenous people the cacao beans were ground by hand and then mixed with water, ground corn and chile and often flavored with vanilla. The drink was known as chocolate.

The beans were also used as a form of currency and could be traded for almost anything in Mesoamerica.

Tabasco’s production is about 70% of the country’s total; Chiapas produces 29% and Veracruz, Oaxaca and Nayarit the rest.

Consumption of chocolate is comparatively low in Mexico at six or seven kilos per year. In Europe the figure is closer to 22-25 kilos per year.

—Diario de Yucatán, Geo-Mexico, Reuters

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