This is my final week in the Toledo district before heading up north to see a few other regions of Belize. Once again this week was filled with various research experiences, in which I further gained an understanding of just what sustainable agriculture entails.
I began the week by spending a few days in the village of San Pedro Columbia, at an organic cacao farm. The farmer, Eladio, is a 65 year old Kekchi Mayan who has devoted his entire life to growing food in an organic and sustainable manner. Not to mention that he and his three sons started Maya Mountain Cacao Co. five years ago, selling organic cacao grown on his farm as well as from 30 other organic cacao growers to buyers in the U.S. and the E.U. It was obvious that they have a lot more money than just about any other person I’ve encountered in this region, so I would definitely say that business is booming for them.
I got a chance to learn how cacao is transformed from a yellowish-red fruit growing on a tree is made into a chocolate bar and beyond. In fact, I believe that this is the first time I have ever tasted 100% cacao chocolate (being grown organically). The process was quite unique in itself and I can see why there is a high global demand for this product.
With his sons doing most of the business work, Eladio himself is more into farming sustainably, focusing on his other crops as well. He took me on a tour of his 30 acre farm discovering various fruit trees such as citrus, custard apples, cacao, pineapple, coconut, banana, plantain, etc. as well as various other crops that would be too long to list. His farm could easily be labeled as a perfect farm promoting agroforestry (not a trace of deforestation in site). In fact, if I didn’t know we were in his farm, I could easily just mistake it for a stroll through the dense rainforest.
I spent another day working with another organic farmer by the name of Mr. Burton Caliz. This farmer not only gave me a detailed tour of his garden, farm, and the type of practices he uses but he also put me to serious labor that day slash-and-mulching his crops and harvesting various lettuces. I was beyond exhausted by days end. It was great getting a chance to talk with him to about why he practices this way. He had a great understanding about the lifecycle of farming and how if we disrupt one part then it will affect the other (ex. using pesticides kills insects, which affects pollination, which affects crop growth). His philosophy entailed something called “agreeculture” in which we need to agree with nature rather than come up with industrial methods around it.
I also spent a day at Belcampo, a resort in which they have their own sustainable farm to grow their food for the resorts restaurant. I was very surprised at how well managed and organized this farm was. They used zero fertilizers, only composted material from vegetation and chicken manure. Their grazing patterns with their chickens and pigs were similar to that of Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in the U.S. (arguably the most sustainable farmer in the country).
Finally, my time here in Toledo concluded with an interview with Fysses, a huge industrial banana-growing corporation. This interview was like no other one I’ve had thus far, in which their viewpoint on agriculture was solely economical rather than environmental. They declined to answer just about any question related to fertilizer-use or deforestation, but definitely knew that they would finish the year with about $58 million in exported sales to the U.K. alone. To them, it was all about quantity over quality. It was great to get this perspective too though in order to see how differently large-scale farmers view agriculture, versus small-scale organic farmers.
Overall, I can say that my month down in the Toledo district was an unbelievable experience. I met a lot of dedicated farmers and individuals who understand the importance of sustainable agriculture. I learned a lot about what that term actually means and the type of practices that surround it. The citizens of Punta Gorda also seemed to have a good awareness about sustainability and the need to address climate change. I think partly because this region is still very rural, lack of technological development, and a dependency upon the surrounding natural resources that people here still have a good relationship with nature. Now it’s time to head north to see if small-scale farming is any different than down here.