DERMAC: Empowering the Environment and People through Cocoa Cultivation

The Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation commenced funding for DERMAC in 2022.

In the heart of Mexico, where tradition and progress intertwine, cocoa takes centre stage as a precious thread weaving through time. The Lemonaid & ChariTea Foundation's Project Coordinator for Latin America, Claudia, sat down with Luis Villafuentes, Director of DERMAC, in the vibrant San Cristobal de las Casas in January 2023. Their conversation unfolded into the world of cacao cultivation, chocolate-making, and the strides made by the DERMAC project. 

DERMAC's work with cacao holds great meaning for the Soconusco region, nestled in the biodiversity haven of "El Triunfo." Luis shares that over 7,000 local cocoa producers find a vital source of income in cocoa. But beyond money, growing and processing cocoa are at the heart of DERMAC's efforts to involve young people and women, protect the climate, preserve biodiversity, and counteract migration in southern Mexico.

The cocoa cultivated under DERMAC's wing is labelled "shade-grown cocoa," a traditional method in Mexico and Central America. Luis explains that cocoa trees thrive under the protective canopy of other trees, like avocado and banana. 

Why grow cocoa in the shade? Luis breaks it down. The shade not only shields plants from harsh sunlight but also keeps the soil moist, benefiting groundwater and preventing soil erosion. Plus, it creates homes for various animals, supporting biodiversity and the global climate. 

DERMAC's commitment is evident in their support for cocoa producers. They've played a crucial role in reforesting 300 hectares of land over three years, focusing on saving endangered tree species. The emphasis on cocoa cultivation offers producers a chance to diversify income sources, reducing reliance on practices like livestock farming that harm the environment. 

A big part of DERMAC's mission is collaborating with a local cooperative of cocoa producers, setting the stage for the first cocoa processing company in "El Triunfo." The goal is simple — boost producers' income by selling processed cocoa at prices higher than the national average. DERMAC supports the cooperative with extensive training, covering everything from organic cocoa cultivation to cocoa processing.

In the first year alone, DERMAC reached over 120 producers in ten communities, establishing forest and cocoa nurseries that planted thousands of seedlings. The impact goes beyond agriculture, as women and young people benefit from better post-harvest practices and the expansion of the cocoa value chain.

Looking ahead, DERMAC envisions a growing cooperative, more women involved in post-harvest decisions, and diverse project financing. The goal is to open new markets for by-products like chocolate, cocoa mass, and pralines, building on the support from the Foundation.

As the dialogue unfolds, it becomes clear that the journey with DERMAC is a story of cocoa's transformative power — a source of livelihood, a protector of nature, and a bridge to a sustainable future for the communities of "El Triunfo" and beyond. The Foundation stands committed, a silent partner in the pursuit of these noble aspirations.