Choco GuateMaya

Cacao - Food of the Gods

Indigenous Cacao

Theobroma Cacao Criollo + Wild

The indigenous cacao still exists in the Mayan communities of Central America. The cacao market calls this Heirloom Cacao, Indigenous Cacao, or Soconusco. It is present in Chiapas, Mexico, in the Toledo regions of Belize, and in various regions of Guatemala such as Chisec, Alta Verapaz.

The Maya communities domesticated this cacao for over three thousand years. Evolution made this cacao less vulnerable to common cacao diseases. The small orchards, usually not larger than three acres, are intercropped with other trees such as mango, avocado, papaya, etc. The genetic integrity of this cacao is preserved in these isolated Mayan communities.

In Chiapas, Mexico, and in the Toledo region of Belize, the Maya farmers formed cooperatives and had tremendous success by selling cacao to specialty markets. This cacao has a very delicate fragance and is most appreciated by these specialty markets. However, because of its scarcity, it rarely enters the European market.
 
The Maya cacao farmers are subsistent farmers and do not use chemicals (insecticides, fungicides, fertilizers, pesticides, etc.). This method makes organic certification much easier, as well as the arrangement for fair trade.
 
 
For our best example, we have the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, which is a viable self-sustaining organization. At present, it has over 750 farmers participating and over 500,000 trees on 1,300 acres. It sells 200 tons of cacao annually through a fair trade organization. 
 
Cacao beans
 
In contrast, this same association, during the 80's, was persuaded by a large American corporation to substitute its semi-wild trees for high-yielding, hybrid trees. These trees needed pesticides, etc, and the cost of these chemicals wiped out the profits. The Toledo Cacao Growers Association has now returned to the indigenous varieties and is having great success.
 
a. Scientists studying the cocoa tree, whose beans, say that fungi, which many had suspected were parasite, are actually powerful protector able to fend off plant diseases. The new findings provide hope for inexpensive and environmentally agreeable ways to protect the trees.
 
b. According to Dr. A. Elizabeth Arnold, Tropical Ecologist at Duke University, the researchers' findings have led them to launch field trials in Panama, in which spores of local endophytes are being grown and sprayed on cacao plants, in an effort to reduce fungal infections. Such production of endophyte spores can be done inexpensively by local farmers or cocoa cooperatives, using only river water and rice, she said.
 
For cacao growers the role of endophytes in protecting trees is promising.
 
Theobroma Cacao Criollo may still be in existence because of this naturally occurring protection.
 
  a. The New York Times, Science, "To the Rescue: Fungi That Invade Also Protect Leaves", by Caro Kaesuk Yoon, published February 24, 2004.
 
  b. Duke University, EurekAlert, Durham, NC, "Armies of fighting fungi protect chocolate trees" contact: Dennis Meredith, public release date: December 23, 2003.