I took a trip to Toledo this weekend and it was sort of refreshing. Our organization in the Golden Stream had its Board Meeting and talking to the community representatives made me feel that our programs were making a difference in the lives of the people and of course the biodiversity that we have vowed to protect. There is so much more to be done and I only wish we had more financial resources but that is one of those things that you can never have enough of.
One of our extension officers working with the people in the upgrading and expanding of the organic cacao farms with our buffer communities made such an excellent presentation at our meeting that it made me realize that we, the Mayan people, have great potential if only we had an environment in which it was allowed to develop and flourish. The organic cacao is a promising industry in the Toledo District. We have a market that is so big that our current production is only a fraction of the demand. This is one of the reasons the Ya'axche Conservation Trust is promoting this program. In addition to that, it is eco-friendly. Organic cacao therefore is a great industry to further develop and promote.
Unfortunately I don't believe the Ministry of Agriculture is putting its weight behind this. Only God knows their reasons and what else they are spending their time and resources on here in the Toledo District.
As far as I know, and I stand to be corrected, the relationship between the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA) and the Agriculture Department is strong enough that anything meaningful can and should emerge from it. This is the part that gets to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
While we can taste a booming organic cacao industry in Toledo and improve the livelihoods of the Mayan people, the support from government and its agencies are severely lacking. This situation has been the same for decades, so please don't anger me more by pointing out recent attempts at developing it, because at the end of the day our production levels remain the same or are falling.
Maybe three years ago the TCGA made an application for support from the CARD project, a project administered under the Ministry of Agriculture and to this day it has not been taken into consideration.
Sure CARD has done bits and pieces with the TCGA but that is not exactly what the farmers want. There is the issue of land tenure that the farmers have been battling for the past decades and cannot seem to be resolved. There are other issues such as farm expansion and rehabilitation after Hurricane Iris. Where is the support in all of this?
I have been critical of CARD before, not because I don't believe in the goals of the project, but because of the way the project is being executed. It is becoming apparent more and more that the workers on the ground have virtually no idea of how the project should be operated.
Some few weeks ago they inaugurated an ice storage or ice-making machine for fishermen in Punta Gorda. This is good for the fishermen and I hope it helps them in increasing production and revenue but the CARD project is supposed to be geared towards community-initiated AGRICULTURE and RURAL development. Since when has Punta Gorda TOWN been considered an agriculture and rural area? I am not saying that PG does not need that kind of attention, it does, but the people of CARD have to get their cards right. Do you really know what you are supposed to be doing?
I know that all I do is criticize, so here is what I believe the project document is saying. The project concept recognizes that the rural areas lack capacity because of a lack of education and other factors so a capacity building and training is built into the project. It is also recognized that the physical infrastructure is not conducive for rural development so that is included as well. In addition there is the obvious lack of capital so a grant and credit component is included as well. The capacity building is supposed to mobilize the people to improve and learn new skills and the grant support is to ensure that this happens without their poverty being an obstacle. Once this has been achieved they are supposed to be strong enough to stand on their own and use the credit program. The marketing component then takes over once this cycle has been completed.
But all components are supposed to be working in sync with each other. On the contrary, what I see is that the components are being executed out of sync with each other and how can the project be functioning normally if the credit program is not functioning when it is key component of the development concept and cycle of the entire project? You have training going in one place and marketing going on elsewhere and you have a credit manager on full salary except he has nothing to manage. Most of the project money is probably being expended on administration rather than on development activities. This is ludicrous.
What is also laughable is the press release that I saw in the newspaper last week where CARD has given a consultancy to T.A.S.T.E. to do marketing development research for border Mayan communities. What the hell does TASTE know about the area? Where is their justifiable experience in working in the marketing area and equally important where is their experience in working with border Mayan communities? As far as I know about TASTE is that they are managing some marine reserve and are a marine based organization in their constitution. I seriously doubt their institutional capacity to properly execute the consultancy they have been given.
This latest development has done it for me. I no longer believe in the viability of CARD in its present state. The farmers in the border area have their relations with their counterparts in Guatemala established a long time ago and have developed their own mechanisms, much to the shame of the Ministry of Agriculture of successive governments. And after this consultancy has been carried out what will CARD do? If you can't tell me in three sentences then I believe that the funds from CARD should be seized. It should be disbanded and used in other areas or withheld until we have the right people to manage and operate the project the way it should be. Here is CARD halfway in its life span and has millions to spend but only stumbles and fumbles at every step. CARD is dead. CARD should be disbanded. Now TASTE this.
ECONOMIC ORGANIC CACAO MISCONCEPTIONS AND
Couldn't let this Belize Times article go by without
a rebuttal. The reasons are basically in my report
done earlier this year posted on the internet on the
Belize Development Issues at:
Organic cacoa is a workable subsistance crop in a cheap labor situation as presently exists in the Toledo Mayan foothills. Organic cacao is not of itself a workable commercial crop, if it had to match minimum wages currently mandated in Belize. A person can work cacao on a part time, as you need cash basis, or what we call subsistance and make some cash flow. But asking the government to invest in a crop that takes about 12 years to come to fruition and costs more to produce, than minimum wages required is just not valid.
To draw a couple of parallels. 40 years ago, I owned 20 acres of coconut plantation on Caye Caulker. At the time in 1960 era, my extended family, hand grated and made coconut oil to sell in the port market in Chaparita bottles. It didn't really pay, but did provide a small cash flow to a subsistance hunter-gatherer lifestyle, when none other existed. Within ten years, other events, notably my pioneer tourism venture and Fishing cooperative venture raised the standard of cash flows in the village so high, that the coconut plantation had to be abandoned, because the cost of local labor was more than the finished product was worth. The plantation got sold a few times for the real estate, not for the coconuts over the next four decades.
Likewise dory fishing by hook and line hand fishing for snapper and grunt. It brings in cash, but is not a commercial venture. Working a boatload of tourists, or a bicycle cart carrying luggage for tourists pays far more by hundreds of times, the value of any snapper and grunt caught by labor intensive hook and line fishing. For your own family, you can still catch fish this way to eat. But as a commercial venture, or even a subsidiary cash flow venture, no longer pays for decades.
The same is true of the organic cacao. It pays Mayan Indians in remote villages at present as a cash flow alternative, on a part time basis as an extra to growing milpa or other activities. But will be abandoned immediately any other cash flow alternative presents itself at more worthwhile rates.
The government should not be investing in coconut plantations, they are too labor intensive and nowadays impractical and not cost effective. The same with subsistance grunt and snapper hand line fishing. The same with organic cacoa, a long developmental crop with no worthwhile market, IF YOU HAD to pay the current wage value of the labor used. The same with citrus farms.
Hitting the ice production in Punta Gorda issue mentioned. There is sea food, namely fish and shrimp out in the Gulf in front of Punta Gorda. The market is Guatemala and ice will protect the catch until marketed and worthwhile cash flow prices are received. This is a valid investment. The labor/cash reward economics make it sustainable. Marine products enjoy high prices and a world shortage. Cacao is overgrown and oversold and too cheap to make anybody in South America, the Caribbean, or Toledo make it pay, except in a very, very, impoverished area with low cash flows. At $400 Bz a year cash flows on average for a Mayan family, it is probably important, but not commercially; only as a family part time subsistance crop cash flow as a substitute until something better comes along.