Evaristo, 48, and his wife Pantiola live in the village of San Antonio, in Belize’s southernmost district of Toledo. They are raising nine children, aged four to 19, three of whom are currently in school and seven live at home. Pantiola is busy taking care of the large family, but also oversees fermentation and drying of cacao. Fermentation stops cacao beans from further ripening and softens their bitter flavor, and drying makes the beans crunchy and further develops their flavor.
With the help of his children, Evaristo maintains a large cacao farm with around productive 4,500 trees, planted about nine years ago. He initially started to plant encouraged by the arrival of Hershey’s Chocolate in Belize in the early 90’s, but his farm was damaged in the aftermath of the Hurricane Iris in 2001. Evaristo replanted his trees the next season and reached full production again a few years back. A cacao tree typically takes three to five years from the time it is transplanted in the ground to become productive, and continues bearing fruit for decades thereafter. A tree’s productivity is affected by a myriad of factors including tree maintenance, amount of shade, and soil health.
Evaristo is happy with the state of his farm, especially because he’s been able to keep diseases like the fungal infection monilia in check and not affecting his cacao production. While he enjoys all aspects of cacao farming, Ewaristo says cleaning is by far the most challenging, because a large farm like his takes approximately 80 days to clean on his own. Cleaning is the process of chopping underbrush to keep the farm tidy, with healthy airflow and access to the trees for pruning and harvesting. Farmers in the lush tropical lowlands of Belize have to repeat cleaning around three times a year. In the future, Evaristo hopes to have a model cacao farm and to start growing other fruit trees and fresh vegetables.
The family is requesting this loan to hire help to clean around the 4,500 cacao trees, a job that will require five men to work about 25 days on the farm.
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.