Dropping oil prices and the ensuing job losses in the Gulf state of Tabasco have resulted in a resurgence in the production of cacao.
With 2% of the worldwide cacao, or cocoa, production, Mexico falls well behind top producer Cote d’Ivoire and its 38% share. Still, the state of Tabasco leads Mexico’s national production.
The promise of better jobs in cities and on oil rigs and the onslaught of a plague doomed a once prosperous industry: from 80,000 hectares dedicated to cacao in the 1990s the area fell to just 60,000 by the early 2000s.
At its lowest, only 20,000 hectares remained in production; the rest fell into disuse or cacao was replaced by more popular crops like sugar cane and papaya.
But the efforts of farmers and industry leaders focused not only on exporting but on a nascent market for niche gourmet products have sent a lifeline to the local cacao plantations. Today, the state’s 40,000 hectares produce close to 18,000 tonnes of cocoa seeds.
Haciendas that had been turned into museums are once again becoming productive, reactivating the local economy and creating much-needed jobs in the state’s cacao corridor, which takes in the municipalities of Cunduacán, Comalcalco and Cárdenas.
Reactivated cacao estates and plantations also earn extra income by offering guided tours that explain to visitors the history of the plant and the different processes it undergoes before becoming chocolate.
One step on the road toward what local producers hope will become a cacao boom was the recognition given earlier this year by the Mexican government of the designation of origin to the local Grijalva cacao variety, which had been requested by Tabasco producers since 2013.
But some producers warn of what they call “pirate” cacao products.
Industry leader Esteban Elías Ávalos explained that tonnes of cheap African cacao is being brought into the state to be distributed as cacao from Tabasco.
But he is optimistic regardless.
“We are going to return to the halcyon days, like the phoenix that reemerges from its ashes. We had lost our motivation, we were knocked out,” he added.
“Cacao has a future, but it needs to be planted again if it is to become the future of the country, or the state,” said Comalcalco farmworker Luis Leyva, 85.
The long-time farmer believes that the soil of Tabasco is blessed because despite pollution caused by oil drilling the state is still the best place to grow cacao.
Cacao’s cultivation originated in Mesoamerica where it was considered a delicacy of the gods. Most now comes from Ghana, Tanzania, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica.
Source: El Universal (sp)