Archive for April, 2009

The Multiple Benefits of Organic Cacao Production

Our UK-based partner, Fauna & Flora International recently released their quarterly newsletter, FFI Update.  There is a wonderful section on our organic cacao operations and the impact it has on the rest of our conservation efforts.  Here’s the text from the article:

Cacao beans must be fermented and dried before being turned into chocolate.

Cacao beans must be fermented and dried before being turned into chocolate.

“Slash-and-burn” is an all too common phrase in conservationsts’ parlance and sadly Belize is no exception.  People Toledo, Belize’s southern-most district, are the country’s poorest and often have no choice but to cut and burn the forest to make way for maize and other subsistence crops, thereby threatening jaguars and many other endangered species.  However, working alongside our in-country partner the Ya’axche Conservation Trust, FFI has found a way to solve this desperate situation – and it all boils down (so to speak) to chocolate.

With FFI’s support, Ya’axche enlisted agro-forestry expert Auxebio Sho – a local Mayan – to promote a crop traditionally grown in the area: cacao (the chocolate bean).  Cacao is an ideal crop since it is native and can be grown organically under natural forest canopy (hence the term agro-forestry).

Auxebio has so far directly taught 75 Mayan farmers in villages surrounding the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve (which Ya’axche owns and manages) how to grow cacao, while providing them with seedlings for cacao and hardwood shade trees such as mahogany.

fbahThe growers then sell all their cacao beans to the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, which in turn sells all its beans to the UK-based chocolate company Green & Black’s.  By helping them tap into a fair trade market, FFI and Ya’axche have enabled the cacao growers to get as much as BZ$2.30 (US$1.15) per pound compared to the 50 cents (US$0.25) per pound they received before, thus removing the need for them to slash-and-burn the forest to make a living.

Also, because local people now understand the need to conserve the forest that provides their livelihood, they are more likely to report instances of illegal logging to Ya’axche rangers.  In this way, the areas of sustainably-used forest create a buffer zone which protects the pristine forest habitat of the Golden Stream Corridor Preserve.

(Photo credits: Rebecca Foges/FFI)

A key take-away from this article is the integrated nature of all operations – economic and conservationist – in contributing to one unified goal: Sustained economic and environmental viability of the people and natural resources of the region.  We thank FFI for their coverage of this issue and welcome all like-minded individuals and organizations to join our efforts!

[If you’d like to receive this newsletter, consider becoming a member of FFI. You get three updates and a glossy magazine every year. Take a look at their site for more info.]


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Different Policies, Different Results

A recent column by the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman highlighted the benefits when…

  1. A government realizes the need to preserve its natural resources, and
  2. Structures itself to most effectively manage it.

Realizing the advantages of having so much biodiversity, and acknowledging the risks that there-to-fore development could place on it, the government of Costa Rica made two ground breaking changes that are paying dividends today.

  1. Instituted a “payment for environmental services” fee associated with the use or depletion of natural resources.
  2. Put control of energy and all natural resources within one government ministry.
Working Together with ILM

Working Together with ILM

That second point is a fine example of Integrated Landscape Management in action. The upside to development and the sacrifices that go into achieving it are borne and shared by many, many stakeholders. Weighing these costs and benefits should then be done on a holistic level. The opposite – putting energy development under one department and conservation under another – can pit two government offices against each other.  When conflict arises it appears as though money (or energy development) must come at the sake of environmental integrity and conservation.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and Costa Rica has realized this.

Belize’s own Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment plays a similar role, but has not achieved the same results.  According to the article, 95% of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable sources (including hydro, which is seen as environmentally detrimental by many Belizeans).  In contrast, most of Belize’s energy comes from Mexico which uses 6% renewables.  Costa Rica has a thriving  eco-tourism market, but Belize – with its barrier reef and English as an official language – has not been able to keep pace with roughly the same amount of protected areas.  Belize brings in $300 million per year in tourism revenue vs $2.2 billion in Costa Rica.  Belize has 2.6 million acres of protected areas vs 3.2 million acres in Costa Rica.



So what’s the difference?  Governmental leadership and integration – successful programs must have top-level support in order to work, and they must simultaneously address all stakeholders’ needs.

So what’s missing in Belize?  Is it vision, or the collective will to act on this opportunity?

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Controlling the Plunder

Nick Wicks

Nick Wicks

… of Belize’s natural resources:

At the end of March, Ya’axche Sustainable Land Use Program Manager Nick Wicks went on patrol with members of the Belize Defense Force.  They scouted areas within the Columbia River Forest Reserve close to the Belize–Guatemala border that would be appropriate for establishing an observation post to curb the incursion of foreign nationals intent on illegally logging and harvesting xaté in Belize’s protected forests. Efforts in the area are challenged by the two and a half day hike over rugged terrain that is needed to get into the remote area.

The information gathered on the patrol will be used by Ya’axche, the Government of Belize and other partners to determine the most effective means of preventing these incursions which have so far removed lumber estimated to be worth millions of dollars and xaté that it is of unquantifiable value.

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Ya’axche Activities on Earth Day

Yesterday Ya’axche observed Earth Day 2009 with approximately 250 children from five of the primary schools in the Toledo District. We sponsored tree planting and garbage cleanup around each of the school compounds. The participating schools were in Medina Bank, Golden Stream, Indian Creek, Silver Creek and San Miguel villages.

Outreach Officer Julio Chub Explains the Importance of Earth Day

Outreach Officer Julio Chub Explains the Importance of Earth Day

Ya’axche donated 10-20 trees to each of the schools. The varieties included mahogany, cedar, salmwood, and jackfruit seedlings. In total, 60 trees were planted for the day and about four bags of garbage were collected.

To kick off each event, a Ya’axche Community Outreach Officer explained the concept and objectives of Earth Day and why it is very important to contribute by engaging in tree planting and cleanup activities.

But don’t take our word for it, we’ll let some pictures do the talking for us!

Local Children with Ya'axche Seedlings

Local Children with Ya'axche Seedlings

Children Enjoy Reforestation

Children Enjoy Reforestation

Garbage Collection Beautifies Land

Garbage Collection Beautifies Land

Teachers Enjoy Earth Day

Teachers Enjoy Earth Day

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Get Rid of All the Waste

Happy Earth Day everyone! Friend of Ya’axche, Mr. Wil Maheia, recently told us about this video on cleaning up Punta Gorda (known locally as “PG”). It features the Shatta Youth and was produced by Eco-Exposure Productions.

Disclaimer:  Mr. Maheia is affiliated with the Belizean People’s National Party political party.  As a non-governmental organization Ya’axche does not affiliate itself with any political party.

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Organic Products in Belize

Protecting Fragile Organic Vegetables

Protecting Organic Vegetables

Ya’axche is involved in organic vegetable cultivation.  Through a grant provided by the Organization of American States (OAS) and in conjunction with our Community Outreach and Livelihoods program, we have sponsored the planting of about two acres of organic vegetables in the community of Medina Bank.  We have discussed that operation before, but in today’s What Do We See in This Picture we wanted to speak further about the state of organic products in Belize.

This is a picture of a greenhouse for organic vegetables in the Cayo district.  Sweet (bell) peppers on the left, tomatoes on the right.  The protective plastic covering does three things for the plants, and are therefore highly recommended for use on all local organic farms:

  1. Sun protection – UV radiation give plants greater susceptibility to certain diseases
  2. Pest control – insects destroy crops and raise incidences of disease
  3. Climate control – exposure and irrigation are much easier to control in an enclosed structure.  This is particularly useful for growing seedlings for transplanting

These structures (approx 20′ x 40′ in dimension) cost around BZ$3,000 (US$1,500) to construct and can hold a few hundred plants. Included in that cost is the installation of an irrigation system (which must be fed by a water main or stream).  It is also necessary to provide a small container with water mixed with bleach and white lime for rinsing hands and feet/boots prior to entering an organic growing area.  That reduces the incidences of contamination by non-organic substances.  All of this is required of organic operations here in Belize.

Historically, local farming has always been organic.  Traditional Mayan agriculture did not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides since none were available.  Early banana and sugar cane plantations were organic by default as well.  In the Mayan system, the health of crops was ensured through plot rotation, crop rotation and manual care.  Moving plots from one area to the next in subsequent years reduced the impact of pests on a crop.  Similarly, rotating beans into a cornfield after each harvest enriched the soil (beans are a legume) and kept weeds off the plot.  Lastly, much manual labor was needed to keep fields healthy and free of pests.  So when chemical fertilizers and pesticides came onto the scene, they gained wide acceptance on commercial as well as family farms.  Nowadays that’s starting to change as the market for organically-produced foods is growing.

Belize does not currently have a national standard for organic products.  It does, however, have two institutions that are filling some of the void until that standard is implemented. The first is the Punta Gorda-based Toledo Cacao Growers’ Association (TCGA),which supplies fair trade cacao for UK-based Green & Black’s organic chocolate.  Back in the early 90s these bodies established the first large-scale commercial organic enterprise in the region.

The second organic institution is the Belize Organic Producers Association (BOPA – website under construction) which has developed criteria for organic certification.  Barring unforeseen challenges, those criteria should be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture sometime in the early summer, providing Belize with its first national organic standard.  Within the year it should have field agents who will begin the process of certifying farms.

While that process – and in fact the focus of Belizean organic operations – is taking place in the Cayo and Belize districts north of us, we are very excited about the opportunity we have of furthering the organic movement and becoming a leader in Toledo-based organics!

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