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Stakeholders Discuss the Future of the Cacao Industry in Belize

Participants gather in a circle for an open discussion during the Forum in San Pedro Columbia.

On  20th July 2017, the Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) along with Ya’axché Conservation Trust hosted the first Belize Cacao and Agroforestry Forum, entitled “The Future of the Cacao industry in Belize,” at the Church of the Nazarene Medical and Education Center in the historic village of San Pedro Columbia, Toledo District.

The Forum brought together nearly 50 participants representing the NGO community, cacao farmers, community leaders, and government representatives in what proved to be an extremely positive event.

Located near the Bladen Nature Reserve in Toledo, BFREE has been hosting and sponsoring workshops, symposiums, and forums to promote the conservation and maintenance of Belize’s rich biodiversity, its tropical forests, watersheds and abundant wildlife for the last 25 years. This forum took shape in response to our current research and work, which focuses on using cacao-based agroforestry as a way to expand the edges of rainforests and protect the wildlife who inhabit the area.

The Forum had two primary goals; bring together a group of stakeholders in order to share information, discuss challenges and explore opportunities for collaboration and compile information regarding the cacao industry in Belize for inclusion in a regional cacao website, CocoaNext, which will be launched later this year by the Cocoa Research Centre at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.

Forum goals were achieved as information was shared and opportunities for collaboration were considered. The group represented an exceptional diversity of experts with a wide breadth of knowledge and experience representing in Belize’s cacao industry making for focused and informative discussions throughout the day.

With the success of the Forum behind us, participants are already looking forward to the future. The shared desire resonated – that Belize and, particularly Toledo, will continue to become an important player in the local, regional and world Cacao Market and that this growing industry will benefit local farmers, local businesses, Belize’s economy, and most importantly future generations.

BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin welcomes the participants of the first Belize Cacao and Agroforestry Forum on Thursday, July 20, 2017.

The Forum speakers included:

  • •  Ms. Antoinette Sankar of the Cocoa Research Centre, at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago. Ms. Sankar provided fantastic overview and history of the Cocoa Research Centre as well as need and purpose for the regional cacao website that will be launched later this year.
  • •  Mr. Wilber Sabido, Chief Forest Officer of the Belize Forest Department. Mr. Sabido spoke of the Forest Department’s position on cacao and agroforestry.
  • •  Mr. Densford Mangar, Ministry of Agriculture Toledo Extension officer. Mr. Mangar presented a national perspective of cacao in Belize.
  • •  Mr. Pablo Mes, Program Coordinator for Maya Leaders Alliance. Mr. Mes described traditional Maya lands rights and land use in Belize.
  • •  Mr. Johnson Ical from Trio Village and Mr. Martin Chiquin from Indian Creek Village both provided the group with an overview of a small farmer’s viewpoint.
  • •  Mr. Gustavo Requena, Community Outreach and Livelihoods Director of Ya’axché Conservation Trust. Mr. Requena described how agroforestry bridges livelihoods as well as on protected area management and adaptation to climate change.
  • •  Mr. Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE. Mr. Marlin presented how cacao agroforestry may conserve and restore biodiversity.

Hyla and Jacob Marlin along with Antoinette Sankar of the Cocoa Research Centre pose for a photo before the Forum in BFREE’s cacao nursery.

BFREE would like to thank each of the speakers and the participants for their dedication to a healthy and sustainable future for cacao in Belize. Special thanks also to BFREE Deputy Director, Heather Barrett, BFREE Operations Manager and Cacao Demonstration Farm Manager, Elmer Tzalam and BFREE Board Member, Gentry Mander who helped make the event a success.

Funding for the Forum was provided by Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education, Ya’axché Conservation Trust, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, on behalf of the Nyanza Natural Resource Damage Trustee Council – comprised of the Service, Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

If you would like to know more about the Forum, would like to be involved or have any questions, please contact us at: contact@bfreebz.org

 

 

Making Chocolate at BFREE

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Operations Manager, Elmer Tzalam, introduces students to how cacao grows in the rainforest. Photo by Graham Byers.

The 2017 field season is well underway! In late January, Vermont Commons High School returned to BFREE to participate in a field course. The group explored the rainforest, participated in homestays with Maya families in Golden Stream Village and traversed the coastal town of Placencia.

A highlight of the trip was making chocolate from scratch at the BFREE Field Station. The journey began with a tour of the cacao demonstration farm led by Operations Manager, Elmer Tzalam. There students harvested ripe pods and, after cracking them open, were able to taste the sweet pulp that surrounds a cacao bean before biting into the dark chocolate bean.

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Student carefully removes a pod from a cacao tree. Photo by Graham Byers.

The group followed beans from the tree, through the fermentation process, to sun-drying, then peeling, pan roasting, and grinding until it was time to pour the liquid chocolate into molds and – finally – eat!

fermentation of cacao

Students remove beans from fermenting boxes. Photo by Mark Cline Lucey.

hand-making chocolate

BFREE Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle, helps a student fill the chocolate molds. Photo by Mark Cline Lucey.

roasting cacao beans

Students roast the cacao beans in cast iron skillets. Photo by Mark Cline Lucey.

 

Can Chocolate Save the Rainforest?

cacao podCan chocolate save the rainforest? BFREE has been exploring this question for many years, beginning when our certified organic shade-grown cacao demonstration farm was planted in 2006. Since then we have worked diligently to provide educational opportunities and support for those interested in learning more about the benefits of shade-grown cacao. We have offered workshops and training programs for local farmers which have provided Belizeans with the tools necessary to grow sustainable and successful crops. BFREE along with students of UNC Wilmington have co-produced ‘The Belize Cacao Agroforestry Handbook.‘  This handbook is a resource manual for anyone interested in growing cacao in Belize.

Due to its high value and its success as an understory crop, cacao is proven to be a great alternative to other forms of agriculture in the tropics which generally require clearing of tropical rainforests and heavy input of agrochemicals.  Therefore, we have been promoting shade-grown cacao as a method for restoring the forest canopy and to help improve the lives of local farmers by offering higher income and healthier working environments, while also maintaining and expanding rainforests, and providing habitat for birds and other wildlife. Growing chocolate is a win-win; it’s good for the environment and can improve farmers’ livelihoods.

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Pedro Rash and Elmer Tzalam manage BFREE’s cacao agroforest.

 

Cacao Pod photo credit: Graham Byers

BFREE Fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

BFREE volunteer, Lisa Ramsden shares informational materials with guests as they arrive. More photos from the event can be found on Flickr here!

On February 4th, BFREE hosted a social and fundraiser at Levine Music in Washington D.C. The event was attended by over 120 supporters interested in hearing about chocolate’s connection to rainforest conservation. 

The event marked the launch of a new campaign to raise capital for the Cacao Discovery Center, The CDC will be a centralized multipurpose educational facility dedicated to enhancing the learning environment at BFREE and promoting cacao-based agroforestry as a strategy to conserve and restore tropical rainforests in Belize. Once complete, the solar-powered facility will serve the many types of visitors that come to BFREE including students, researchers, farmers, conservation practitioners, and the public in general.

During the event, guests indulged their taste buds with BFREE’s finest hand-crafted chocolate made in Florida from cacao beans grown at the field station in Belize. The chocolate was presented in tasting squares, as whole roasted beans, as nibs and as a fondue from a chocolate fountain. Fresh fruit, as well as a variety of hors d’oeuvres were offered to guests. In classic, Willy Wonka style, gold-foil wrapped chocolate bars and hearts were available for Valentine’s gifts. The nights’ specialty cocktail; a ‘Belizean Rum Old Fashioned’ was created with homemade infused bitters using BFREE cacao nibs and Belizean One Barrel Rum.

A silent auction included food and handcrafted items all originating in Belize and including Marie Sharp’s hot sauces, beautiful wildlife and forest paintings, Maya hand-crafts, lovely hardwood bowls, and, of course, a variety of cacao products like nibs, cocoa powder, and soap.

Executive Director, Jacob Marlin shared some of BFREE’s history and described the growth of both the organization and field station over the past 22 years. He highlighted stories of the many projects BFREE has implemented, and focused on how growing cacao (chocolate) trees under the rainforest canopy is an important strategy for restoring and conserving tropical rainforests in Belize.

If you would like to support BFREE in our efforts to build the Cacao Discovery Center please consider making a a donation here: Donate now to support the Cacao Discover Center! 

If you have any questions, please contact us by email at: contact@bfreebz.org

More Photos of the event in Washington, D.C. are on Flickr here! 

Special thanks to Levine Music for providing the perfect event location and excellent staff support.  

Also, thanks to the artisans who created wonderful works of art just for this occasion: Grayson Sierra, Greta Leslie, Avelina Choc and Mr. Tyrone. We are grateful to event volunteers who donated their time and expertise: Kelly Sanville, Katie Bates, Lisa Ramsden, Shaman Marlin, Sofia Marlin, Hyla Marlin, Tierra Maclean, B. Trewin and Donato Alvarez.

Finally, thanks to David and Jackie Marlin without whom this event could not have been possible.

Chocolate and Beer Tasting with BFREE

Executive Director, Jacob Marlin, described cacao-based agroforestry and the chocolate-making process to Gainesville community members.

Over 100 supporters joined BFREE on April 21st to help us put the FUN in fundraiser. BFREE hosted “BIRDS, CHOCOLATE & FORESTS: CONSERVATION EFFORTS CONNECTING THE US TO CENTRAL AMERICA,”  in Gainesville, Florida, the home of the US for BFREE office. The event took place at First Magnitude, one of the most loved craft breweries in the area; they have a passion we can all get on board with, “great beer and great community.”  In addition, local food truck, Cilantro Tacos joined the effort by donating ten percent of their nights sales to BFREE. A silent auction with bid items ranging from bagels to acupuncture was supported by many incredible donors and was a highlight of the event.

fm event

BFREE volunteers, Wendy Wilber and Juliana Carrillo, greeted event supporters.

The BFREE chocolate offered for tasting was made with 100% organic, shade-grown, fine flavor, single-origin beans. The beans are grown in cacao agroforest at BFREE where, once harvested, they are fermented and dried in the sun. The beans for the fundraiser were brought to Gainesville where they were handcrafted in small batches.  

While chocolate, beer and tacos can make any event successful, the true spotlight was the message which fueled invaluable conversations about the connection between birds, chocolate, and forests. Deforestation threatens the nearly 600 species of birds that call Belize home and cacao-based agroforestry can provide an organic, wildlife- and environmentally-friendly alternative to other types of agriculture. Therefore, BFREE is working to convert degraded land to cacao-based agroforestry for the purpose of expanding migratory bird habitat and protecting Belize’s rich, biodiverse rainforest.

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Belize is home to one of the last undisturbed rainforests left in the world and the largest continuous tract of tropical rainforests north of the Amazon. We believe that the key lies in the connection between birds, chocolate, and forests.

If you are interested in learning more about the work that BFREE is doing to promote cacao- based agroforestry or would like to make chocolate from bean to bar please contact us at contact@bfreebz.org.

BFREE would like to extend a special thanks to all of the silent auction donors for ensuring the event was a hit: Adventure Outpost, Alvaro Toledo, Bagel Bakery, Kirk and Gloria McDonald, Lauren Schaer,  Leonardo’s Pizza of Millhopper, Liz Getman, Michael and Janice Carrillo, Sami Gabb, Theresa Rizzo, Wendy Wilber, Wild Birds Unlimited of Gainesville. Another big thank you to Cilantro Tacos and First Magnitude Brewery for supporting both our mission and event.

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BFREE depends on the support of individuals like you. To purchase a BFREE t-shirt, hat or to make a donation please contact us at contact@bfreebz.org