MEXICO CITY -- Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched an ambitious forestry program Friday to plant fruit and timber trees, as well as cacao and coffee, on nearly 1.5 million acres (570,000 hectares) in the country's south.
The government program will pay farmers a wage of about $250 per month to care for plots averaging about 6 acres (2.5 hectares).
Lopez Obrador returned to his roots in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, where he began his public-service career in the 1970s helping obtain land for Chontal Indians.
"This is where we started the struggle, visiting towns and hamlets many years ago," Lopez Obrador said. "But now you see the fight was not in vain, with the suffering of many we decided to create real change."
The leftist president waxed poetic, saying "Some went on ahead of us, but up there, where they are, I'm sure they're smiling, they are happy."
The program known as "Planting Life" will focus first on planting mahogany, cedar and coffee plants, and will expand to coffee bushes and fruit trees.
The plan hopes to overcome Mexico's position as a net importer of cacao, the basis of chocolate. Mexicans were among the earliest to grow the crop, but the other countries now far outstrip Mexico's production.
The program also hopes to help Mexico's beleaguered coffee growers, who have been hit by plant disease and a lack of government support.
As with many of Lopez Obrador's projects, the army will play a role, running the tree nurseries.
But like many of his programs, it is also not without critics.
While some countries are having success growing high-value, gourmet varieties of coffee and chocolate, Mexican planters fear the mass planting of low-grade cocoa varieties and robusta coffee shrubs — used for instant coffee — will put the country in the low-value mass market of commodity production.