What happened to cacao in Guatemala?
Recently arrived in Guatemala 2 months ago to open a cacao and chocolate museum in the city of Antigua, I was more than happy to visit my first Guatemalan cocoa plantations this sunday 22nd of January 2012. Guatemala was home of the Maya people who were living in the region for many centuries and considering the cocoa tree as "the food of the gods". The main growing regions for the Mayas were the region of Suchitepequez in Guatemala and Soconosco in Southern Mexico (Chiapas). At that time, Guatemala was in the top growing regions of cocoa in the world. Now Guatemala is only producing approximately 1000 tons of cocoa per year (1000 times less than what produces Ivory Coast). While heading to Suchitepequez in car from Antigua, Guatemala you could see huge parts of lands covered by sugar cane plantations or rubber trees. These plantations require a lot of water and has a bad impact on the surrounding communities.[Read this article about Guatemalan Sugar Cane]. The industry employs about 350,000 people, with workers migrating from all parts of Guatemala, during the harvest season from October to March. Sugar cane workers earn the equivalent of about $8 per day. But when the harvest is over, the workers need to find other jobs until the next harvest. Finally we arrived in Chicacao and San Miguel Panan in the department of Suhitepequez. Finally I saw my first cocoa trees and the ambiance is way different from the ambiance in the sugar cane plantation. The cocoa tree grows among other species such as avocado trees, mango trees, zapote trees... You can hear the sound of birds and animals, you can see the little midges flying around the trees and the air is fresh.
We are far from the burning sugar cane fields where the only life lies in some f the employees working there to contain the burning of the fields.[See this gallery of picture about Guatemalan sugar cane field] Little by little people are stopping to plant cocoa trees or even harvest the cocoa pods from the trees they already have because the price paid to the cocoa farmer is too low for the work that has to be done. Also the history of Guatemala has not helped the growing of cocoa: Above are listed some of the reasons why Guatemala dropped from one of the main producing countries 500 years ago to one of the least: 16-17th century: Pirates blocked the seas to export cocoa and some of the cocoa fields were replaced by cochinilla fields (which was a natural colorant widely used at that time) 1870: Big investment to grow café in Guatemala by Germany replace some cocoa farms by coffee farms (even at low altitude) 1945: After world war II, German owners are expropriated and land is given back to land owners in Guatemala. They don't plant cocoa trees or remove them because the crop requires too much workers 1959-1996: Civil war in Guatemala and no investments are made in the cocoa plantations 2010: The disease "monilia" kills a lot of cocoa trees which are not replaced by other cocoa trees but sugar cane plantation or rubber trees 2011: Hurricane Stan destroys a big part of the production by removing all the flowers from the cocoa trees Even if the scene depicted in this article seems pretty dark, some interesting projects are starting to rise: Pepe (72 years old) has planted 7000 Trinitario trees on his land and is hoping to get his first crop in one year (see picture) Some associations of farmers are starting to appear to help cocoa farmers finance the maintenance of their trees and find markets for their cacao. One example is ASECAN (Asociacion de Sembradores de Cacao de la cuenca de Nahualate) which is helped by ChocoMuseo. The project is to bring people to this community and teach them about the cocoa tree and the great ecosystem surrounding it. Cacao (or Cocoa) has all the reasons to be a fabulous agricultural product and it has to be protected. If you love fine chocolate, please share this article. Alain Schneider - Owner of ChocoMuseo