Belize Cacao: a revolution going on in Southern Belize!
Maya Cacao Meets Modern Technology
Don’t worry – Belize is still a stable, harmonious little country and a beacon for democracy in the region. The revolution we’re talking involves a project called; Indigenous Innovations: Revolutionizing the Cacao Industry in Belize, part of a radical new approach aimed at supporting small Maya communities by helping to boost production and then better market their ancestor’s favourite crop – cacao.
One of the many gifts the ancient Maya gave to the world was the invention of chocolate, which they first produced as a beverage derived from cacao trees. Since well before the time of Christ, the Maya were developing and perfecting strains of cacao that today continue to produce some of the richest and purest chocolate in the world.
We’ve written quite a bit about Belizean cacao and chocolate here ,Love May Not Have Been Invented in Belize, But Chocolate? and there isn’t much argument that in all its many forms, the nectar of the cacao tree is one of life’s treats. Try one of the Chocolatissimo treatments or a delicious chocolate wrap at Chaa Creek’s Hilltop Spa, and you’ll really understand what we’re talking about.
But we digress…
People have been growing, harvesting and using cacao for literally thousands of years in Belize, and the agricultural methods haven’t changed very much over that time. Cacao is still grown in small amounts by subsistence farmers who until recently received only a pittance of the price the final product fetches on the world market.
But that’s all changing thanks to Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC), an organisation founded in 2010 by local Belizean cacao farmers, chocolate makers, and American entrepreneurs to support Belizean cacao farmers in creating a more farmer-friendly industry in Belize.
Today, MMC works with some 330 small scale Belizean cacao farmers, sharing expertise to help create greater yields, better market the product and ensure that the farmers get the best deal possible.
Since it began, MMC has helped farmers increase their incomes by up to 400 per cent through better access to markets and opportunities to secure micro-credit. And by offering technical support and market incentives, MMC has helped farmers see improvements of over one hundred per cent on crop yields.
Pretty impressive results over a relatively short period of time.
MMC now provides Belizean cacao to six preferred customers, and has a waiting list of more than 70 potential buyers who are lining up to purchase Belizean cacao. In order to satisfy this growing demand, MMC is helping farmers plant 82,000 new cacao trees this year, with ongoing support, technical assistance and agricultural microloans for over 165 farmers.
More recently, MMC has been working with farmers and community leaders to develop land leased through the Government of Belize into an environmentally sustainable, certified organic, world-class cacao Demonstration Farm. Most of the cacao grown in Belize uses farming techniques going back thousands of years and is by default organic (and incredibly rich and delicious), but the Demonstration Farm will go a long way in helping to raise Belizean cacao’s profile around the world.
The group recently began a kickstarter program to raise $40,000 to develop 120 acres using the principles of cacao agroforestry — using timber trees for shade and interspersing companion crops along with the cacao, much as the ancient Maya did. The funds will also be used to establish nurseries and pay for salaries and training.
The Demonstration Farm’s goal is to double the volume currently produced by Maya Mountain Cacao and become a financially sustainable source of employment and economic opportunity for rural Belizean Maya communities.
You can learn more about it by following the Indigenous Innovations: Revolutionizing the Cacao Industry in Belize link.
This is a typically Belizean scenario – using modern methods, cutting edge technology and social media to support and preserve things thousands of years old – be they ancient Maya artefacts and cities, the pristine natural environment, the Belize Great Barrier Reef and much more.
The Maya make up over 12% of Belize’s population, and living in small villages and communities with their own unique languages and customs, they have had precious few opportunities to join in Belize’s fast paced development over recent years. The MMC and other programs are going a long way towards rectifying this and giving these hardworking farmers assistance they can use. Already the MMC programs have resulted in a big rise in income, standard of living, and tangible results such as vastly improved school attendance by village children. We’re looking forward to hearing more.
As chocolate lovers ourselves, we wish the Indigenous Innovations: Revolutionizing the Cacao Industry in Belize success, and look forward to the day when Belizean chocolate stands out in supermarket shelves around the world.