When I was living in Vancouver, Canada, one year ago, I saw the « Chocolate Farmer » documentary at the city library. It talked about the life of Eladio’s family, a traditional Mayan family living in South of Belize. I was inspired by this story, full of passion and respect. I decided « I want to visit them during the journey through Americas ». Here we are! Spending 3 days in San Pedro Columbia, Toledo district, Belize.
The Agouti Farm
Avec Eladio dans son agro-forêt, Toledo
Agouti Farm is a family owned and operated cacao farm, focusing on organic production of cacao. Our cacao is shipped all over the world, through Maya Mountain – where it is turned into delicious chocolate.
Here on the farm, you can have a farm experience like no other! Jungle hikes, medicinal plant tours, cacao harvesting and chocolate making – these are all just some of the activities you will do here at Agouti Farm! The entire Pop’s family helps run this farm, using traditional Mayan techniques and knowledge in our operations. You’re welcome to visit their family and lovely place anytime…
Multicultural Environment in San Pedro Columbia
Eladio is a Q’eqchi Maya, born in Southern Belize. With Virginia, a Mopan Maya, they raised 15 boys and girls. This is prolific family! It means Eladio and Virginia have a huge love to share! They all speak both languages, plus English and some Spanish.
In the San Pedro Columbia’s community, a bit more than 2,000 inhabitants, religion has always played a major role in the daily life. But since few years, many others churches started to develop their « business », trying to attract new practitioners. Now, the community’s member identify themselves more about their church membership than their proper identity. « People are much more individual than before, with a competitive spirit » confessed Eladio. Watching the party organized by one of the church in this end of week, we have the feeling that churches are exploiting poverty and lack of (good) education. « Twenty years ago, there were two churches in the community. Now they are fourteen », asserted Eladio.
Education is another constraint to the community development in Belize more than in other Central American countries. Since our arrival in the country, we saw many schools, even in very remote areas. The pity is that they were most of the time « offered » or linked to a church (Nazarene, Adventist, Methodist, Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, etc…). Here in Belize, powers are not separated. We think that this prevents young people from acting free-minded and to improve their living conditions. As Eladio says, « the best education is in the Nature« . As schools keep children partly away from the family life (it is obligatory to go to school), traditional knowledge is getting lost little by little. « My children are spending more time on a bench, getting lazy, than in the farm with myself, helping me and learning all about Nature, how to grow food which the most important for their future », regretted Eladio.
Agroforestry As An Alternative to ‘Slash and Burn »
Toutes les femmes affairées à la préparation du cochon et des tamales
Entrant dans la ferme d’Eladio
Male Cacao fruit, near oranges
Bière de cacao confectionné par Eladio pour les visiteurs
Agro-forest: multi-layers, benefitting reciprocally from each other
As in many Central American countries, Belize is dramatically affected by deforestation. One of the reason is the development of cattle and the use of slash and burn technique to create new fields. This involves the cutting and burning of trees and plants in forests or woodlands. It is subsistence agriculture that typically uses little technology or other tools. Although a solution for overpopulated tropical countries (which is not the case of Belize!) where subsistence agriculture may be the traditional method of sustaining many families, the consequences of slash-and-burn techniques for ecosystems are almost always destructive. The principal vulnerability is the nutrient-poor soil, pervasive in most tropical forests. When biomass is extracted even for one harvest of wood or charcoal, the residual soil value is heavily diminished for further growth of any type of vegetation. And moreover, this involves the destruction of tropical forest ecosystems. Slash and burn is a headlong rush. This is different from « burning » techniques that can be sustainable if applied regularly in the same field…
Eladio learnt from his father to use this technique of slash and burn as well. But Eladio did not want to contribute to the destruction of the Nature and tried to find out alternatives. That is how he started to use agroforestry techniques, associating plants and trees that could benefit from each other.
Palapa being built
He re-forested his land, reintroducing native plants, helped by birds and animals. Cacao trees are shaded by taller trees and produce a very good cacao. Among them, you can enjoy bananas, heart of palms, mangos, corns, medicinal plants, etc.
My farm is my life. I work with my birds, my ants, my trees, all together to make the best. I learnt from Nature how to grow plants, how to take benefit from natural processes, acting in the same direction.
And experiencing his farm tour is really a unique experience. You can hear many birds, feels trees, have a bath in the brook, enjoy shaded path under « tourist trees » and male cacao trees, finishing by a tasting of home-made fermented beverage of cacao and coco. After that, you can’t even see the uncovered fields of the neighbours…
Before leaving Pop’s family, we saw the preparation the pig into various specialities like chicharones to celebrate the renewal of the palapa (palm leaves roof) of one of the family cabin. A community event where many neighbours helped.
It was a great experience to meet them after one year that I have them in mind, Another nice life lesson!
If you want more information on the cacao farm, or want to volunteer there, please visit the website and contact Eladio!