Ancelmo, Valentina and their ten children live in San Jose, a Mayan village with deep cacao growing traditions. The children are all grown up, with the youngest aged 15, and the oldest 35. All children but the youngest, who’s currently in school, live and work Belize City, the former capital of the country. Because of a recent upsurge in urban violence, Ancelmo says he’d prefer the kids came back to work the land instead.
Ancelmo is one of the more experienced cacao farmers in the area, having started as long as 15 years ago. That period marked the first push for cacao planting in Belize with the arrival of the multinational Hershey’s Chocolate. A further expansion in the ranks of cacao farming was the establishment of a local co-op that besides seeds, also provided farmers with stable market access.
For Ancelmo, the favorite part of cacao farming is harvesting and not finding diseased or bird-eaten pods. “When I reach and see the pods yellow, I’m not happy,” he tells Maya Mountain Cacao. The challenging part is pruning, because the trees get tall and hard to reach. Ancelmo says sometimes he has to do it with a ladder, and that takes a long time because it’s slippery and dangerous if you try to rush. When farmers have time to do regular pruning, it keeps the trees from getting too tall and unwieldy, and also makes them more productive in the coming season.
In the near future, the family hopes to expand their cacao fields by planting 1,000 trees. Once they are productive, they hope to invest in home improvement. The current loan will be used for cleaning and pruning around 450 cacao trees, and will require and create the equivalent of 20 days of labor in the community. Ancelmo also plans to rehabilitate an additional 2 acre plot he hasn’t been managing because of time constraints and hard to work, hilly terrain. Rehabilitation here refers to cleaning and pruning the trees that are still standing and planting new ones in place of withered ones.
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.