Posts Tagged green & black’s

FFI’s: Focus On The Ceiba Tree

Article extracted from FFI

The ceiba tree (Ceiba pentandra) is one of the largest trees in Belize’s Golden Stream Watershed ecosystem. Though not listed on the IUCN Red List, it is a vital component of the ecosystem and has an iconic status in the region’s communities.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) is working with the grassroots organisation Ya’axché Conservation Trust to protect the ceiba’s forest habitat by working with local people. The habitat is home to jaguar, tapir and many other threatened species.

Learn more about our work to save the ceiba tree’s habitat.

Ceiba tree quick facts

  • Grows to 60-70 m (200-230 ft)
  • Has a straight, largely branchless trunk that culminates in a huge, spreading canopy, and buttress roots that can be taller than a grown person
  • Its deep roots mean it’s often one of the few trees left standing after a hurricane.
  • Plays an important ecological role, supplying shade, nectar, fruit and many other necessities for wildlife
  • In traditional Mayan culture, the ceiba tree represents the link between the underworld and the heavens because it’s so tall
  • The ceiba tree’s branches were believed by Mayans to act as a seat from which the gods watched the people walking below

 IYB Issue: Cultural connections

  • The ceiba tree’s strong cultural ties to Mayan culture has proven invaluable for FFI’s partner Ya’axché Conservation Trust. The communities in and around the Golden Stream Watershed are mostly Mayan. In choosing the ceiba tree for its name and logo (Ya’axché means ceiba tree in the Mopan Mayan language), Ya’axché is highlighting its focus on locally-driven solutions to conservation problems.  
  • Identifying the local cultural value of species can help garner community support for wider habitat protection. Humans are not separate from nature. The more we identify ways to strengthen the link between conservation and society, the more we have a chance of saving the planet’s biodiversity.

“The Ceiba tree stands tall and strong just like Ya’axché which together with FFI is proactively protecting more than 300,000 acres of the Maya Golden Landscape habitat that links the Maya Mountains to the Belize Barrier Reef.”
Lisel Alamilla, Ya’axché Conservation Trust

How You Can Help

Eat more chocolate! Well.. eat more Green and Black’s Maya Gold chocolate to be exact. A significant percentage of chocolate beans that go into it come from farmers that FFI and Ya’axché have supported around the Golden Stream Watershed area. 

Growing cacao under the rainforest canopy is much better for the forest and earns them more income than their previous slash-and-burn subsistence farming.

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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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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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