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Cacao in Belize: An industry at risk

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Posted: Sunday, January 31, 2021. 8:06 pm CST.

By BBN Staff: In the southernmost part of the country of Belize, the fledgling cacao industry is one of many that have been struggling to stay alive. The cacao industry is heavily concentrated in the Toledo district. The main exporter of cacao is the Toledo Cacao Growers Association (TCGA), who before 2010 were the only exporters of cacao in the country. After 2010, competition came along in the private sector through the Maya Mountain Cacao company.

Before the pandemic, there were about 100-130 metric tons of cacao being exported a month on average. However, like most other industries, the pandemic hit hard putting the entire industry at risk. Due to the pandemic, chocolate shops in the United States of America, and Europe were forced to close down. These countries were the main purchasers of cacao with about 85% of cacao being exported to them from Belize. This meant that a huge portion of the cacao market literally vanished overnight.

Due to these unforeseen circumstances, the cacao industry, and TCGA were forced to lean on possible local support from the Central Government. The harvesting peak season of cacao is quickly approaching as it typically begins in March and lasts up to May when about 80% of cacao is produced. This literally means that help is needed, and it is needed now. With the government strapped for cash, the options seem very limited, but there are still options.

TCGA has expressed to the government of Belize that they are currently working on getting certified as an organic product which, would, in turn, raise the price of the cacao they are able to export. They have also expressed that they have big plans for the future, but these plans heavily depend on the availability of resources such as an electric dryer which would allow the cacao to dry faster, resulting in cacao being able to be stored longer. Increasing the shelf life of their cacao means that the product can sit in warehouses for some time while TCGA outsources the local and international market to find new buyers. This dryer comes with a hefty price tag and while the government is committed to helping, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise, Jose Mai, commented to the TCGA, “We are no longer in the time of plenty, we are in the time of scarcity.” His comment was followed by his verbal commitment to see what the government can do in order to help the cacao industry stay alive.

CEO in the Ministry, Servulo Baeza, also commented to the group representing TCGA that the key to success will be unity. He advised the TCGA representatives to work on uniting their farmers, and their partners so as to create a co-operation that will be able to weather the storm the pandemic and its struggles may present. The meeting ended on a hopeful note, with TCGA notably pleased with the visit.

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