“The solution is work, and more work.”
Reviving the coffee and cocoa plantations of Mexico
“Every day at the office we drink Kajwel Tøjk coffee,” says María from the Indigenous Organic Producers Zoques AC, in Ocotepec, Chiapas, Mexico. She and her husband are the models for the product whose label includes the organization’s motto “Respect for nature and the hands that work it.”
How can we ensure coffee growing promotes biodiversity? Artemio Cruz, president of the cooperative explains it by showing the nursery, where not only are coffee plants, but also a variety of trees. The coffee is shade-grown, which means it’s not only high quality, but beneficial for the environment.
“We work with the trees, we even learned to raise them with a harness to work the shade and keep the forest healthy.” — Artemio Cruz
Further south, in the highlands of Chiapas, coffee cultivation is resuming after a rust crisis. A disease caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, caused the crop to be abandoned in much of the region. Today, with 20 community nurseries and techniques such as the vermicompost leachate, a compost tea made by worms, the slopes are green again. “Now we even have more firewood, which we consider our “natural gas” thanks to the recovery of the vegetation,” says Sebastián Velázquez Pérez, representative of the working group and president of the Comptroller’s Committee.
The Small Grants Programme (SGP) is working with UNDP in Mexico to revive coffee plantations devastated by blight. The initiative, financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), provided training for coffee farmers, so they can improve their incomes while working with nature.
“Training has been key for our communities,” says Guadalupe Pérez Santiz, representative of the Barrio Yaxha women’s group. She shows us the “Bordeaux mixture” created by French vine-growers, which controls the spread of rust.
The farmers of Tenejapa are using a compost tea called “visosa”, which was developed in Brazil. Together with the organization Foro AC, soil profiles are analyzed and natural fertilizers are carefully applied.
In El Soconusco, Chiapas, producers were about to clear the forest to create open pastures. They felt they had no choice since Moniliophthora roreri, a fungus which rots the pods of cacao plants, was killing their livelihoods.
“The project Conservation of the Landscape through improved cocoa management of the SGP and Rural Development and Environment AC (DERMAC) arrived on time,” says Eusebio Hernández Acuña, producer in El Soconusco.
“We thought they were going to bring us a recipe to solve the problem, but it turns out that there is no such recipe, the solution is work, and more work to revive the cocoa plantations,” he says.
Through the agroecological management of cocoa plantations, it was possible to reduce the pest by 70 percent.
Luis Villafuerte from DERMAC, project advisor. “The demand for cocoa exceeds the supply in Mexico right now. The management of cocoa under shade, not only helps us to maintain biodiversity but also to maintain the microclimate, water services and stop the deterioration of the landscape”, says DERMAC project advisor Luis Villafuerte.
Together with the president of the cooperative “Familias Productoras Agroecologicas de Cacao del Soconusco” SC, Fidermina Pérez Morales, the SGP team inaugurated a new cocoa processing centre. It has a solar dryer and wood fermenter, which will allow the cooperative to sell cocoa at a much better price. Families in the cooperative have begun to produce chocolate, which will allow agrotourism to complement their economic activity. Cocoa farming is being reborn on the mountains of the Triunfo Biosphere Reserve.
The same is happening on the other side of the Sierra, in the La Conformidad community, in Salto de Agua. Hand in hand with Maya Vinic, a cooperative with a long and successful track record in organic coffee and honey, the community built a processing centre. In addition to controlling moniliasis, Pedro Velazco, the president of the Community’s Cacao Producers Group, explains that prices are already much higher. The improvement in processing also contributed to the chocolate now sold in the cafeteria Maya Vinic in San Cristobal de las Casas, to the delight of tourists and local customers.
The work promoted by the SGP not only transformed the consumption habits of the staff of the UNDP office in Mexico City since before the pandemic, only coffee from Chiapas cooperatives was drunk, but they also made it possible to strengthen the community organization of small producers and coffee and cocoa producers, which directly contributes to conserving Mexico’s biodiversity.
Have coffee or chocolate today to take care of Mexican biodiversity.
Story by UNDP Mexico; Photos by UNDP México/PPD Omar Hernández and Alejandra Ysunzad, except where noted