Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Belize - the story of chocolate and cacao in Belize.

October, 2010
This is an OPINION PIECE by Ray Auxillou, filling in some historical background and looking at the wider picture, to encourage possible foreign investment in cacao production. The world market is there for processed chocolates, can we fill some of the foreign demand and earn foreign exchange is the debate.

Today Cacao production is at an all time high, even though in the rest of the world, cacao is having a downturn in production and prices. Today in 2010, more than 1100 small growers and subsistence milpero campesinos grow Cacao, primarily in the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts. The crop is an add on, to growing corn and beans and raising a few pigs. To date, those 1100 small campesinos live across 52 different small jungle communities and together produce 47 tons of cacao beans annually. Their organization is a NON – PROFIT, CALLED THE TOLEDO CACAO GROWERS ASSOCIATION.
Armando Choc is the current General Manager. In the 1980´s HERSHEY was the only buyer and had a plantation in the Northern Maya Mountains. World wide production had gone up and prices dropped and the world market collapsed. Cacao beans were the money of the olden time two Mayan Empires, going back around 3500 years. About 1100 years ago, a two hundred year drought decimated the Mayan Empire and the whole political feudal structure collapsed. About five hundred years ago, the Spanish invaded and started conquering the many large Indian Empires throughout the Americas. Pirates came into being also. About three hundred years ago, a locust plague hit the Yucatan and Belize for three years, starving millions of Maya people. Four hundred years ago, the British entered our area and started cutting logwood, a dye producing wood that had a big market in England. By then the population of the whole of what is now Belize was not more than 30,000 people, scattered all over the jungles. The British enclave started with the port of Belize City, A shipping and merchant situation for serving the interior of the Yucatan, the Peten and what today we call Belize. The total population when I arrived in the then British Colony called British Honduras in late 1959 still only numbered about 30,000 people. Population today of the country is around 350,000. We await the new census results.
The Cacao Association reactivated itself when a contract was signed to supply Whole Earth Food Ltd., now called Green and Black´s in 1993 over in the UK. The Toledo Cacao Growers Association signed it´s first contract with the assistance of these community development minded people of the UK and received with their guidance an ORGANIC certification for jungle grown shaded cacao production by remote hill farmers. This certification enabled a higher price and the Soil Association and FAIRTRADE by the FLO made the TCGA a pioneer in the Fair trade business in Central America. The TCGA now have a rolling 5 year contract and higher prices than world price.
Between 1994 and 2001 the output exported ran around 20 tons annually of cacao beans. At the time, this was a supplemental cash flow income for around 200 farmers living off the land, who had no cash flow before, or very small cash flow from selling a pig, to the small 5000 population Punta Gorda town market on the coast. Productivity has been increasing until Hurricane Iris cut a swath through the southern district destroying the jungle and villages. There were no resources to rehabilitate and as far as we know, the so called government depot for the National Emergency Management system in Punta Gorda, had no transportation for boatloads of emergency donations delivered from Caye Caulker to Punta Gorda by lobster and tourist rescue conveys. The situation was a shambles. The Belize government failed miserably in the emergency. About 400 temporary shelters were built by the Mennonites and paid for by a collection done on the internet via the Belize Culture listserve membership at the time. Around $50,000 usa was donated. Instrumental in this money raising effort was a USA hero, Marty Casado, living in Oregon, who ran a website called Ambergris Caye.com. Hurricane Iris is the only recorded hurricane to have hit this high rain fall jungle area in the Southern part of Belize. The Central Government had no money and spent whatever they had on the port town of Belize City for the most part, up in the central coast of the country, where there is a colonial mentality still despite national independence in 1982. Only the private sector enabled the scattered villages of the Toledo District to survive and recover. About 50% of the cacao trees were rehabilitated somewhat with assistance from FAIRTRADE and Green & Black´s. Production came in very low after that. Chainsaws and pruning equipment were donated for the tangled jungle undergrowth. Very few farmers participated. Cash for gasoline and oil was not available to subsistence jungle farmers. Many farmers were showing renewed interest and Green & Black wanted a better cacao pod. The MAYA GOLD BAR needed more production and a better flavored bean and the Trinitario beans were used to replant.
To put things on a more sustainable footing, the TCGA was reorganized and the idea was to go for more members and bigger acreage. The project was financed by Green & Blacks DFID, or international development department with assistance from HIVOS a Dutch support organization. Technical training and extension services were created, management capability and directors involved. The best record of production since then was 42 tons in 2006 and averages around 30 tons annually, more than pre-Hurricane Iris disaster. Today the number of jungle farmers involved is about 1100 producers for this year 2010 and farmers are now cultivating the local hybrid Trinitario, which in turn is a cross of Forastero a hybrid mixed with the Criollo, a very aromatic specie. Farmers are now under extension officers encouraging an average of 2 acres each, with a 12 ft x 12 ft spacing. It takes about 4 years for a tree to produce cacao beans. Intercropping with timber and leguminous trees and other staples like plantain are encouraged during those early growing years.
The new TCGA has extension training in all facets of cacao bean production. Farmers are taught the necessary skills to cultivate, ferment and dry cacao beans as demanded by the European market. Satellite buying centers for beans are now established around the Southern half of Belize to provide quality beans for export.
The guaranteed market and certification organic and FAIRTRADE standards are the biggest assets the TCGA have. This foundation was set in 1994. There are now even four local CHOCOLATE PRODUCERS. Kakaw, Goss, Cotton Tree and Cirila´s Chocolate. These are very small home industries and do not have an export market as of yet. 90% of the cacao beans are exported. 10% are utilized by local processers.
The growth is only upward. Green & Black want 450 tons annually and are only getting 42 tons. The rest of the world produces 70% of the Cacao, but the TCGA controlled crop enjoys HIGHER PRICES and a niche market for quality. The cacao producers earn about $2.30 a pound for fermented and dried cacao beans. In addition FAIRTRADE gives them another .14 cents a pound as premium and the organic certification gets another .18 cents per pound. The NY world market is higher right now than the local price, but there is a guaranteed market despite world price fluctuations. Pricing is currently being set to the International Cocoa Organization´s daily price adjustment schedule. Prices have gone up over the last 7 years when the worldwide market started to recover. The current price is $2.30 a lb and likely to stay the same right now.
The goal is to have the TCGA become a self sustainable business. There are many overseas inputs, from UNDP, CARD project, Help for Progress, HIVOS, Irish aid, ACICAFOC and DFID who have contributed in small ways over the last ten years. Even the Norwegian government is contributing through CATIE, a research center system. Local Belizean farmers are being taught practically ´- in the field-
The E mail for the Toledo Cacao Growers Association is tcgatoledo@gmail.com. Or tcga@btl.net Slow mail address is: Box 160, Punta Gorda town, Toledo District, Belize Central America.

Most of this statistical information comes from the Belize Agriculture Report, a quarterly local publication by Beth Robinson and John Carr. If you are interested in Belize Agriculture ask them: editor@belizeagreport.com
The Ag Report is available for International subscription and is a very good publication and informative about agriculture in general in Belize.


Klaus Kapitals said...
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