REPORT #545 October 2002

By Ray Auxillou

The short answer is NO!

The long answer, is that there is something called the Toledo Hills Cacao Cooperative that is shipping cacao to Green and Black Chocolate Company in England and getting supposedly higher than world market prices. The cacao is jungle shaded and organically grown.

The Toledo Hills people are Mayan indians living the traditional jungle lifestyle of thatch roof, palmetto walled, dirt floor subsistance farming, as the Maya have done it for 15,000 years or more. They don't get a lot of cash flow and live mostly off the jungle. Everything they need, they grow or collect from the jungle. They do need money to buy machetes made of steel, files and rubber boots for walking in the mud of the rain forest. The boots take snake bites very well.

The Indians are only doing cacao part time. Among other activities. So for them as an extra arrow in the quiver, a little bit of cacao can go a long way in supplementing cash income flows. Production of cacao trees runs around 400 lbs an acre. Last I looked, the world price was about .86 cents US a pound.

The Toledo Indians of Belize have some trees that are over a hundred years old. And the old infamous murdering, torturing, liar, Spanish cleric, Bishop Landa of five hundred years ago, wrote about the fabulous cacao orchards and vanilla production of Belize.

Low yields for organic cacao are normally low. Nitrogen fixing is done by having other trees that do the job interspersed with the cacao trees. Most effective is Erythrina Peoppegiana, glyricidia sepium and there are others.

If we shift to hectares ( ha ) and one hectare is 2.4711 acres, the world low production figure is about 29 kg/ha. A kilogram = 2.2046 lbs. Average world production is 346 kg/ha for jungle grown cacao. Haiti is reputed to have the highest production rates at 2000 kg/ha. How they do it, I don't know?

Cacao is grown in Brazil, Trinidad, West African countries and is the subject of child slavery/kidnapping investigations over there in different countries. It is a natural crop and originated in the Americas and particularly in Central America.

Normally there is a world overproduction of cacao to make chocolate. This depresses prices below what it would pay to do this in Belize, or anywhere in the Caribbean and South America. But cacao is subject to fungus attacks and there are some major fungus's play havoc with plantations in West Africa and in Brazil. At this writing the Brazilian crop is under fungus attack and world prices have soared to about $1900 US per tonne. A short ton is 2000 lb and a long ton is 1.016 ton. I'm not sure what the Futures Markets calculate in which tonnes, but a typical Futures Contract is ten tonnes and fluctuates at a $1 a tick.

Christopher Nesbitt is the man to see, for the buying and quality in the Toledo District Mayan Cooperative cacao production. His e-mail is: [email protected]

Unless you wish to live in a jungle grown and material made shack ( which is not too bad by the way, if you have mosquito netting ), commercially growing cacao as a money making crop is probably not worthwhile in Belize. If your wife wants running water, a flush toilet, septic tank, a solid roof that does not leak, a stove that is not built and fueled by wood on the floor, a washer and drier; then it is doubtful if you could make enough in cacao orchards commercially to make her happy. I doubt if 100 acres of cacao would leave you with $12,000 Bz a year to live on, after all your expenses. First of all cacao needs cheap labor. At the moment the Maya in remote jungle areas still provide that; but you will not find cheap labor anywhere else in Belize. Prices are very much similar to the cost of minimum wage or better, found in Florida, USA. Add in the government tax deductions and it is more expensive.

There is a way to make a cacao plantation attractive. But this is more from a retirement angle. If you sell stock and get some retirees to go along with you, in return for bragging rights on owning their own cacao plantation; but expect no cash dividend, it would work. Enough houses on the property to house them during the cold winters when the snow is flying up north, FREE, or for very little maintainance costs; as a winter vacation home, and their own share of a cacao plantation as cocktail conversation, the project of a cacao plantation would fly.

Penn State has a very interesting project going over in Trinidad on abandoned cacao plantations. Some microbiologists were wondering how to use their skills and trade, to help someone in a warm climate in their winter times. They decided to give it a go with an abandoned cacao plantation. They have found a way to CLONE cacao plants. They are doing what would normally be done with hybrid seeds through pollination in other crops like corn; but using cloning techniques. The cloning process is producing hardier cacao specimens and so far, it cleanses any plants of fungus at the same time. Cacao is pollinated by gnats and midges in a wet humid rain forest environment. How it will turn out eventually I don't know? But to make a commercial cacao plantation work, you would definitely have to increase yields many fold. As a retirement scheme and partnership through stock ownership, it can work in Belize; as long as investors realize there will be no cash dividends, but dividends can be taken out in a winter vacation home in Belize. The cacao also ties up real estate for investment appreciation purposes long term in the 30 year cycle and could eventually be cashed out by your heirs and great grandchildren at higher land prices, whenever something is found to pay better with the land agriculturally. You wouldn't live long enough to see it though.

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