Alfonso 72, lives in the village of San Jose with his wife Isabela and two children. Asked to recount how many children he has, Alfonso counts studiously naming different villages where they all live.
Alfonso has been farming for 30 years, and works one of the bigger cacao farms in the area, spread out in 3 plots encompassing 4 acres and around 1,600 producing trees. One of the most productive families in the Maya Mountain Cacao network, Alfonso’s farm has been under constant expansion. “The happiest moments are when the trees are producing well and we have you guys here buying every weekend,” Alfonso told MMC, adding that on the few occasions when there’s no production to sell it really feels like he’s losing out, but that’s cacao. There’s money to be made in cacao, and if everything goes perfect and he manages to keep the diseases in check, he says he’ll be a rich man.
Alfonso is getting ready for cleaning the underbrush surrounding his cacao trees before the upcoming harvest season. Cacao pod production is picking up slowly and will reach full swing in March-April and continue until it slows again In July-August. Cleaning is a routine activity on shade-grown cacao farms in tropical lowlands and needs to be repeated every three to four months. It is necessary to clear access to the trees for pruning, harvesting and or planting new seedlings as well as to prevent fungus diseases common in the rainy season.
Alfonso got introduced to cacao when his father started planting even before the big push in the industry when Hershey’s arrived to Belize in the early 90’s and introduced a new market and seed varietals from Costa Rica.
About Maya Mountain Cacao
Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC) is a for-profit social enterprise that sources premium cacao beans from smallholder farmers in Belize. Founded in 2010, it generates income for marginalized farmers while promoting sustainable agricultural practices in the southern part of the country.
These cacao farmers use Kiva credit to invest in farm maintenance, improvement and expansion. For example, they might hire workers to help with the harvest or buy inputs such as better tools and seedlings.