Six months ago, Geo-Mexico.com gave an optimistic mention of Maya Biosana, a cacao megaproject in Quintana Roo, noting that it had received the support of the federal Agriculture Secretariat (Sagarpa):
We also noted that the project was not without its critics. In this post, we look at some of the claims, counterclaims and available evidence.
What is Maya Biosana?
The Maya Biosana project aims to make Mexico the leading producer of organic cacao in the Americas. In the early phases, Maya Biosana claims it will plant one million cacao trees to create 500 hectares (1200 acres) of irrigated orchards in 12 communities near Chetumal in Quintana Roo, with similar numbers of new trees to be planted annually for another three years. The trees are expected to yield 2.4 metric tons of cacao per hectare, produce 4800 metric tons of cacao a year (destined for high quality chocolates) by 2017 and provide up to 2,000 additional jobs.
A fuller description of the intended project (pdf file, in Spanish) is available on the Sagarpa website.
Pipedream or reality?
Industry insiders, such as Denver-based chocolate maker Steve DeVries, who leads specialist tours to the cacao growing regions of Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador, have drawn our attention to the fact that such numbers will be virtually impossible to achieve. In their view, producing and planting one million cacao plants will take far longer than a year, even in ideal circumstances. They also point out that a million trees on 500 hectares would be an average planting density of 2000 plants/hectare. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about half that figure, 1025 plants/hectare, would be a more normal spacing.
The Maya Biosana project apparently intends to plant only cacao Criollo. Of the three main varieties of cacao (see further reading for more details) – Forastero, Criollo and Trinitario – Criollo produces the most flavorful chocolate, but is little used at present in the mainstream chocolate industry because it is very susceptible to disease, and takes longer to reach maturity. The most widely grown variety is Forastero, which is hardy but least flavorful, while Trinitario, a hybrid of the first two, falls somewhere in the middle.
This makes Criollo a very strange choice for such a major plantation. In fact, industry insiders say, there is no source anywhere in Mexico for the huge quantity of Criollo grafts that the Maya Biosana project would require.