Posted by: southernbelizeexpertise | March 1, 2012

Cocoa is a Win/Win for People and the Environment

Imagine that you had invested in a hotel in little piece of paradise on the beach, by a lake, in the jungle or some other local beauty spot. Then the local council comes by and decides to empty raw sewage into the sea next to your pristine beach or a company builds a nuclear power station next door. Your paradise is gone and your business evaporates overnight. Just one of the things that can keep a hotelier awake at night. Some people can afford to buy buffer lands around their property to protect themselves against this kind of event but the effect on a country or industry can be quite devastating.

In inland Belize the greatest threat comes from environmental degradation. If the forest in Toledo disappears, will anyone want to come and visit? Threats to our forest come from illegal logging of primary hardwoods such as mahogany, tropical cedar and rosewood. They also come from the traditional system of slash and burn farming where the fields to be planted are cut at the beginning of the dry season and burnt just before the arrival of the rains. When a piece of land used like this is abandoned the forest takes many years to rejuvenate itself. Milpa farming on leased plantations in Belize replaces social security systems in other countries; even if no paid work is available, the family can still grow its own food and survive. So there are strong pressures to continue this form of subsistence farming.

Balaam; used as currency by the ancient Maya

Archaeologists studying the Maya collapse “find evidence that the Maya population exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment including exhaustion of agricultural potential and over-hunting of large animals.”  So any contemporary tourism business in Belize has a vested interest in understanding these processes and working to find ways to make the environment and their business sustainable.

Simply put, more paid jobs mean less slash and burn farming and less slash and burn farming means less environmental degradation. Tourism is the one of the most effective ways of creating jobs and income but one other development in the past twenty years offers enormous potential to help families move from subsistence farming to commercial farming. This is the cultivation of organic cacao (cocoa) which has been grown here for centuries.

organic cocoa farming

Miguel Choco explains his organic farming techniques

The Toledo Cacao Growers’ Association(TCGA) has an agreement with Green & Black’s in the UK to take all its cocoa bean production for the manufacture of “Mayan Gold” an organic Fairtrade orange flavoured chocolate. The agreement extends back to the early nineties and “Mayan Gold” was one of the first European Fairtrade products.

organic cocoa pod

Freshly opened cacao pod

Armando Choco is the general manager of the TCGA which is busy expanding its production of organic cacao to 150 tons a year.  He says ” The 50 tons we harvest now come from just 30% of the acreage.  The trees are already in the ground and we just have to wait three or four years before we reach that target.

We want TCGA to be a sustainable and vibrant industry in the south by increasing both membership and also productivity.  Between 2003 and 2006 membership increased from 230 to 900 members and since then acreage has increased from 400 to around 3800 acres at present

TCGA improves the income and livelihood of subsistence farmers and we are well on our way to achieving these aims.  Our ultimate aim is to provide high quality beans to both the international and domestic markets.  Right now our focus is on improving productivity and our education programme covers cacao biology, high yielding tree selection, grafting, orchard maintenance and post-harvest methodologies like fermentation and drying.”

So how does this help tourism and conservation? Cacao is a sub-canopy species that grows best in the shade of other larger forest trees. Growing cacao discourages farmers from cutting other trees. In fact it encourages them to leave trees in place or inter-crop with other species that yield cash crops such as black pepper or the indigenous allspice. And the more the forest flourishes the better the long-term prospects for sustainable tourism. Cacao growing and the TCGA Fairtrade agreement has done more than anything else to produce sustainable livelihoods for local farmers over the past twenty years. Long may it continue.



  1. I am Cocoa Extension Officer from Ghana.Am very interested in visiting your Company. Hope to hear from you soon.
    Thank you.

  2. Good information. Lucky me I discovered your blog by
    chance (stumbleupon). I have book marked it for later!

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