Santiago is a farmer from Guatemala, who has been living in Belize since 1985. He lives with his wife Juana and their seven children in the village of Red Bank. The kids have been helping by transplanting, cutting and weeding the underbrush.
“Belize is very pretty, we’re like in heaven here. There’s land to work,” says Santiago, pointing out that in his native Guatemala land is hard to come by. Besides cacao, the family grows beans, corn, coffee, cardamom, avocado and anatto. Annatto is a high bush that is used for making achiote, also known as recado – a reddish paste that is often used for spicing up tamales.
Santiago started planting cacao just five years ago, after seeing a fellow villager with cacao seedlings and giving a try to the crop himself. “Cacao is very pretty,” says Santiago, adding that it’s of great use in the home too, as the hot chocolate drink makes for a tasty alternative to coffee. The Mayan chocolate drink is made by grinding dried, unfermented cacao beans and grinding them – usually by hand – into a paste that is then dissolved in water.
The family is requesting this loan to transplant 400 seedlings from the on-site nursery as well as cleaning and pruning around 600 cacao trees. Transplanting is the process of planting into the ground seedlings that have been raised in bags for at least six months. The work will require hiring four people for two days of work, while Santiago plans to do the clearing work himself over a longer period of time.
Santiago is currently saving up money to get his land surveyed so the family could get an official title to the land they are working. Private ownership already exists in Red Bank, however to claim it farmers need to hire surveyors. An alternative to privately owned land is a communal land system that is still commonplace in many Mayan villages throughout Belize.
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.