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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Race Against Fire: A Collage

Race Against Fire 2009

2009 Race Against Fire

Here is a photo collage of some of the images from our 2009 Race Against Fire, an annual presentation and community forum on fire awareness and preparedness.  Among the images you can see:

  • The race participants at the start and the winner at the end of the race
  • A wide cross section of the many hundreds of visitors who attended
  • Recipients of our inaugural award recognizing Outstanding Farming Practices and Reduced Fire Use
  • Representatives of the Red Cross, Fire Department, and Traffic Department, all of whose organizations supported the event
  • Participants in the soccer/football and volleyball tournaments
  • Watermelons from one of our three eating contests
  • A traditional Mayan harpist who performed at the event

Below you’ll find an example of the award certificate that was presented to those farmers who had significantly reduced and/or eliminated the use of fire in their field preparations.  Many had also started organic cacao plots, which along with being highly lucrative, are organic and do not require destroying any natural forest.  Along with the certificate, each farmer was awarded a small set of tools useful in cacao harvesting and the recognition of their peers and communities.

We are very thankful to the village of Indian Creek for providing the venue and much of the food for this event.  Our congratulations to the race and competition winners and to those farmers recognized for their outstanding practices!


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Old Man Lizard

Old Man Lizard

Old Man Lizard

The “Old Man Lizard” is more commonly known as the Helmeted Iguana and is a popular local lizard for its unique looks and docile demeanor. As they rely almost exclusively on their camouflage for defense, they will sit amazingly still, even when approached.

The “old man” reference comes from the apparent gray “beard” made by the frills around its neck and throat which give the animal a scruffy appearance.  They’ll grow to over a foot long, with half their length in their tail.  Their most distinctive feature, however, is their crest which they can raise – while also puffing out their throat scales – when excited.  Males have significantly larger crests than do females.

The animals are found throughout Central American forests (Mexico to Columbia) and are generally found in and among trees where they’ll often rest looking straight up the stem.  Like many iguanas and casque lizards they eat insects, arachnids, worms and smaller lizards.  In some regions of the world, they are a popular house pet.

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Xaté Stories Get Wide Coverage

We were recently pleased to see yet further coverage of the xaté-related issues we’ve been writing about recently.  First there was a piece on the increased demand for xaté from Palm Sunday, written by FFI.  That was picked up by

Second was our original report on the apprehension of 16 illegal xatéros.
That was also picked up by Susty.

Thank you to all the other blogs and their editors for distributing these posts.  We must all work together to get the message out about the illegal exploitation of our natural resources.



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