The “Cocoa Producers Association of Alta Verapaz” (APROCAV) is an organization that assists 26 small organizations of farmers in the indigenous Mayan cacao farms located in Cahabon Lanquín, La Tinta, Fray Bartolome de las Casas, and Chahal, all in the province of Alta Verapaz. The main economic activity of these organizations depends on agriculture, where cocoa is one of its main activities, more than 390 participating families (1.950 people) work approximately 1.650 acres of land of which 210 hectares are planted with organically grown cocoa, 130 hectares of cocoa plantations are in a development stage, being the remainder acreage used for other crops such as corn, beans, coffee, cardamom, and some achiote (Bixa Orellana). The APROCAV farm area is located in sub-tropical humid climate, with suitable soil for optimum growth for cocoa. The environmental conditions in the APROCAV communities are very similar to those of the projects Just Chocolate of Choco Guate Maya in Chisec, therefore, ideal for the production of cocoa.
Cocoa production of the APROCAV organizations exceeds 1.200 quintals of cocoa beans. This production is increasing every year with the increasing number of their partners. The project is located east of Cocoguatemaya Just chocolate project in the province of Alta Verapaz.
Until December of 2.011, APROCAV projects have been assisted by PRODEVER, funded by FIDA (IFAD), and has also received technical and financial assistance from CATIE, FUNCAFE, PRORURAL. In January 2012, Choco Guate Maya took over the management of this project. The population within the communities assisted is 100% of Mayan origin, with 95% Q'eqchi.
A critical point in the production of cocoa beans for top grade has been the fermentation process, which is not carried out properly, and leads to low quality cocoa bean. Currently each community ferments their cocoa, resulting in a cacao, below standards required by the markets in general.
Traditionally, the Maya communities of Alta Verapaz have practiced slash and burn agriculture (mainly for corn), which has been outlawed for years, but by laws that are not enforced. To help reduce environmental degradation, CGM is contacting another NGO, which supports the promotion of reforestation of damaged areas by planting local tree species and the conservation of water sources. Cacao needs shade, so reforestation will provide this by inter cropping, with cocoa. APROCAV Organizations have additional land available to implement reforestation areas, especially with agricultures associated for cocoa, coffee, cardamom, citrus and other fruits. This will be a compliment and give alternatives to the income of the farmers.
Choco Guate Maya is working to increase cocoa production of cocoa in Alta Verapaz and comply with international standards. In this regard, it has worked in coordination with Agricultural Training Center in San Pedro Sula, Honduras (FHIA). CGM is sponsoring a training course on the fermentation and processing of cocoa. A total of 15 people from the communities involved are participating, and with this training, the communities will be able to perform the proper handling of the beans, to provide high quality cocoa for the international market. It will also be necessary to work on the development of infrastructure, financial resources and marketing. With this in place, there will be a possibility to eliminate middlemen, and have a better income for all beneficiaries.
This actions will significantly and permanently improves the living standards of these communities. Choco Guate Maya is committed to ensuring fair trade, and avoiding forced child labor that could be involved. We are optimistic that the project will be a success and that this model can be replicated in other Mayan communities.