Santiago, 53, and his wife Margarita live in the village of Indian Creek, close to the highway connecting southern Belize to the ex capital of Belize City. Road infrastructure means connection to the electric grid, but also higher expenses due to power bills.
Santiago, a father of six, lives with his wife and their youngest, a 17-year-old son. Having initially tried to manage a teaching job alongside farming, he opted to join the ranks of many farmers making their land their full-time job and are looking sustain their families by tapping into new markets for cash crops. To diversify his income stream, Santiago has kept his eyes and ears open about different market opportunities, this has led him to expand to pumpkin, a high-demand crop on the neighboring Guatemala market. Moreover, there is pre-harvest financing for pumpkin, whereas until now there were virtually no financing mechanisms in place for cacao farmers. Santiago has been investing his income in home improvement and diversifying his food supply, such as his recently installed small-scale tilapia ponds.
Cacao farming has proved to be risky business for Santiago, whose crop was devastated by Hurricane Iris in 2001, and again in 2007 by a fire that spread from a neighboring farm. Persistent in his efforts, however, he replanted every time, and even transplanted 500 new seedlings in September of 2012 to expand his cacao farm, which has 30-year-old trees. Cacao trees take three to five years to begin producing pods and continue at full capacity for 60-70 years. Farmers have to routinely clean and prune their cacao trees to ease access for harvesting, prevent spread of mold infestation and increase yields in the coming harvest season.
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.