Roughly 200 Maya farmers from over 20 villages in Toledo supply organic cacao to a Toledo-based company, Maya Mountain Cacao Ltd (MMC), whose primary market is overseas. Emily Stone, co-founder and managing director of the company, told Amandala that 20 metric tons were produced last year at US$4,500 a metric ton, representing growth of 300% over the previous year. Farmers are paid BZ$2.50 a pound if the cacao is dry but 85 cents a pound if wet, she explained.

The Toledo cacao, which was featured at an organic fair in Punta Gorda this weekend, is supplied locally to Moho Chocolate (located at the Tourism Village in Belize City), as well as US companies such as Taza Chocolate (Boston, MA, USA) and Mast Brothers Chocolate (New York, NY, USA).

The world market is gaining a whole new appreciation for organic farming. Maya Mountain Cacao works with Toledo farmers, certifying their farms as organic under USDA standards. The company says that it also provides technical assistance to farmers and it guarantees them fair and stable prices for produce.

On Friday, Stone, a member of the Belize National Organic Council, participated in a forum held in Punta Gorda, at which organic agriculture was the focus of discussions.

“I’m proud to announce that our company, Maya Mountain Cacao Ltd., has exported to the US multiple times and built strong relationships with farmers around southern Belize,” said Gabriel Pop, field director of Maya Mountain Cacao and a cacao farmer from San Pedro Columbia Village.

The company said that it brings an innovative new model of cacao sourcing to southern Belize, focused on centralized fermentation and drying.

“Centralized fermentation and drying means that farmers only have to harvest and crack their pods, providing farmers with increased security, more ûexibility with their time, and immediate compensation for their work,” Pop added.

Stone explained that the company’s goals include preventing deforestation, growing farmer income, and producing higher volumes of organically-farmed cacao.

She told us that as a part of their aim to catalyze industrial growth, they are mobilizing young people to farm and participate in staff programs.

“They [the youth] will be a really important part of the future of the cacao industry in Belize,” Stone emphasized.

The company reports that this summer, it assisted over 100 farmers in planting over 50,000 cacao trees, and 20,000 of the trees were grown in partnership with Ya’axche Conservation Trust.

“The integrated farming system using cacao agro-forestry improves soil and maintains wildlife and habitat while increasing income for farmers and their families,” said Christina Garcia, Executive Director of Ya’axche Conservation Trust. “Ya’axche promotes cacao agro-forestry and is glad to see the cacao industry growing as it opens up both economic and conservation opportunities for all of us in Toledo,” she added.

Information on pick-up routes can be obtained from field director, Gabriel Pop, at 632-4328. Stone can be contacted at 662-3336/637-2457, or Emily@mayamountaincacao.com.