TCGA Practices Ethical Responsibility
TCGA has become a unifying force in a community where there are two distinct cultural and language groups: the Kekchi Maya and their neighbours the Mopan Maya. Mistrust and suspicion between the communities had been exacerbated when aid workers, missionaries and government officials were suspected of favouring one group over the other. Within TCGA there is one shared goal - to sell Green & Black's as much good quality cacao as possible.
Secondary education in Belize is free, but the nearest high school is in Punta Gorda, 20 miles from the villages in the Maya Mountains. With no daily bus service, students have to board with families in Punta Gorda, a significant cost. As a result of increased cacao income, more students go to high school and a bus service has been set up on a daily basis. There is even talk of building a high school in one of the central villages.
Cacao production has strengthened the position of women. Unlike rice, post harvest processing is an important part of cacao production and women play a key role. Beans are fermented in boxes next to houses for five days. Once they are fermented, they are dried in the sun, turned, and protected from rain. Women control these operations and as a result they can benefit directly from the income generated by cacao.
Growers are switching back to the local variety of cacao. It tastes better and although yields are lower the quality is superb. As well as increasing cacao production, the TCGA wants to diversify and, with organic status, they find they have an advantage. This season the TCGA grew a trial crop of 5 tonnes of red kidney beans and 5 tonnes of black beans which Green & Black agreed to purchase at EU organic market prices.
Ginger is also being planted around the edges of the cacao trees and produces a good crop. This increases earnings from the same area of land enabling farmers to look after two crops at the same time. The ginger does not compete for fertility with the cacao. Annatto has also been grown widely and is processed in the villages to produce a yellow colouring paste which can be used in organic margarine and butter.
Organic Agriculture Lessons from the Field
Studies have shown that organic agriculture is economically viable, that farmers can achieve more income as a result of premiums and that they need fewer inputs to maintain returns. Organic systems are based on the optimum use of local resources and technologies and can give farmers greater independence and more control over their means of production. However, more comprehensive monitoring is needed to analyse their sustainability and impact.
Many farmers enter organic production because they want to farm in a more holistic way. Other major stimuli for developing organic agriculture include environmental and social concerns, economic necessity, a lack of chemical inputs, and market demands. Small farmers are also encouraged to take up and stay in organic farming by the prospect of being able to produce more food at the subsistence level, having a larger surplus for local sale, or being able to cultivate a product of significant export value. Farmers are most responsive to organic agriculture when they have not been exposed to the 'chemical message' and their farming systems involve traditional or nil inputs. When production is relatively labour intensive and if farmers have the chance of developing the organic concept themselves they are also more inclined to convert to organic agriculture. Farmers are less likely to take up organic farming in situations of high labour cost and labour scarcity and where there has been an overexposure to the chemical message . Farmers with relatively mechanised farms and a commitment to high input, high output strategies are also less likely to convert. Insecure land tenure means small farmers will be reluctant to plant permanent crops.
Local and foreign NGOs, local and foreign buyers, government agencies and large private farmers are generally the main initiators of developments in organic agriculture. Development often occurs at one focal point and spreads outwards to link a widening range of organisations. In Egypt, the Dominican Republic and India, pioneering work by individuals has lead to the development of local organisations capable of representing the organic sector and to government recognition programme provides access to premium prices if certain practices are followed. It functions as an effective extension method with the capacity to support sustainability.