This week, we are hearing from Roxanna Chen, General Manager of Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC) Ltd. Farmer Network, HCP Designee #7, a specialty cacao sourcing company that works across the Toledo, Stann Creek and Cayo districts of Belize.
In 2015, MMC farmers earned HCP designation for a set of farms in the villages of San Antonio, Santa Elena, and Pueblo Viejo, in the Toledo District. Roxanna discusses how the Pandemic has affected MMC operations, its programs and life in Belize.
Q: How has the Pandemic affected MMC operations?
A: In late March, Belize confirmed its first case of Covid-19. At the time, MMC was still in full operation- meaning buying cacao from farmers in the field, the office team working at MMC’s compound, HCP trial plots in maintenance and processing of cacao beans in full swing.
Shortly after the announcement, the Government of Belize issued out several Statutory Instruments (SI) in phases that gradually changed the operations of MMC and the operations of all other entities in Belize. So, the office team started working remotely; the field officers paused on all field operations such as buying cacao from farmers in their respective villages and conducting weekly farmer visits while MMC’s processing continued; however, with a much leaner team. This all happened during the peak season for cacao which are the months of March through May; therefore, impacting farmers with lower income generated from cacao sales to MMC.
To address this drastic change in operation, the management team at MMC concluded that operations must halt by 50% in order to produce a contingency plan that will support MMC’s sustainability and longevity during this pandemic. So, this included laying off a few seasonal workers. All HCP projects placed on halt; work hours reduced by an hour (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) in which a normal buying day would last to 7 p.m. in the peak season; hence, it was no longer feasible. This implementation was necessary for the benefit of all and as a means of preventing the spread of the virus. The country is still in a State of Emergency with several SI lifted; however, with higher cost of penalties if found in violation of any of the SI’s.
Q: Are you developing new opportunities to adapt to these new challenges?
A: MMC continues to operate with buying once a month from cacao farmers and are accepting delivery of cacao beans at the facility only. MMC landed its first ever historic buying of 60,000 wet pounds of cacao beans bought between the hours of 8 a.m. to 12 noon. on a single buying day. MMC continues to communicate and work closely with farmers and find means of accessing PPE’s for MMC staff and cacao farmers.
MMC Nursery Program
In 2018 MMC was awarded two HCP grants funded by the Lesley Family Foundation and Penn State University to identify at least 10 mother trees that are scientifically selected for desirable traits (production yield, disease resistance, etc.) certified heirloom and create a 1-acre clonal garden. It is the long-term intention that these genetics would be dispersed in Belizean cacao farming communities to increase production of fine flavor beans.
To learn more about the MMC Program, watch our Documentary on the HCP YouTube Channel:
Interested in purchasing chocolate made from MMC Heirloom designated beans? Find a list of retailers on the HCP website here.
How can you help support Heirloom Designees around the world during these uncertain times? Click the following link to our Buy Heirloom Chocolate page on our website, where you can find a list of retailers selling chocolate made from Heirloom designated cacao beans.
With your purchase, you will enjoy extraordinary chocolate and support our Heirloom farmers.