Fileon and Bernarda are raising five children and farm around 4.5 acres of cacao in the village of Pueblo Viejo. The kids are aged five to 13, and three are currently in school. Besides farming, Bernarda and Fileon make crafts to sell in town – hand-carved calabash ornaments and lamp shades among other decorative items.
Fileon got the idea to plant cacao eight years ago after meeting a chocolate maker while selling his crafts in town and subsequently requesting bags to raise cacao seeds from the local co-op. He then proceeded to clear some bush to make room for the cacao under the canopy of native trees and has been caring for it ever since. Besides the access to market for one of very few viable cash crops in Belize, the family likes cacao for use at the home. “I like it, because I roast some and then drink it instead of coffee,” says Fileon, adding that store-bought coffee is probably not good for you, while cacao keeps him healthy and working hard. For Fileon, the best part of cacao farming is seeing the trees clean and nicely pruned. The most challenging is that cacao grows naturally in an environment shared with animals, who enjoy chewing on the roots – like peccaries, and the fruit – like squirrels and birds, says Fileon.
The family is happy to be able to send their kids to school, which in Belize comes with tuition for each child in any level of public education. Fileon says he hopes the kids end up going to university, as it was something he would have wanted, but didn’t get the opportunity to do himself. “Now they have options, they can work the farm or get other jobs too,” Fileon told Maya Mountain Cacao. In the future, Fileon wants to start working on a house of a more appropriate size for his large family and to keep busy with the crafts and farm.
The family is requesting this loan to clean and prune around 1,500 productive cacao trees and set up a nursery for 500 new plants. Cleaning is done by using a machete to clean underbrush that continually grows around cacao trees, in order to make them accessible for pruning and harvest. Pruning is the process of cutting excess branches from trees to keep them from intertwining with one another and producing at their highest capacity. Planting requires bagging seeds that are kept in a nursery until the seedlings have around 4 leaves and are ready for transplantation into the ground. The job at hand will require and create the equivalent of 22 days of labor in the community.
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.