CI and UNACH worked to organize farmers and connect them directly to buyers at home and abroad. In the coffee sector, farmers had formed cooperatives to advocate for fair working conditions, income and access to markets. By contrast, cacao farmers in Chiapas were operating independently. CI helped 90 farmers form the Rayen cooperative, which then partnered with international boutique traders and Mexican chocolatiers to boost their production and find new, direct buyers while conserving biodiversity in their cacao forests.
Next, CI and UNACH gave farmers technical assistance, improving the quality of their cacao and dramatically increasing production, in just two years, from an average of 50 kilograms (100 pounds) of cacao per hectare to 200 to 300 kilograms (440 to 660 pounds) per hectare. With these drastic hikes in supply and quality, farmers more than doubled their income, from US$ 2 per kilogram to $4 to $5 per kilogram. Already, farmers have sold three tons of cacao to Europe, according to Olvera.
“Diverse, fine flavors of cacao are in high demand, and Mexico has some great cacaos that were unknown to many buyers,” Olvera said. “Now, people get to experience this great-tasting chocolate, while farmers bring home more money for themselves and their families.”
CI and the university also began collaborating with the chocolate museum in Mexico City (MUCHO), which helped Rayen-grown cacao reach worldwide recognition. According to Olvera, MUCHO’s owner, Ana Rita Garcia Lascurrain, was the first chocolatier to buy a sample of cacao from Rayen. She began experimenting with bean-to-bar recipes, creating new products to sell at MUCHO.