Thousands attended the 9th annual chocolate festival in Toledo over the weekend. The festival lasts for three days and started on Friday with a wine and chocolate event. The largest part of the event was held on Saturday when different artisans and other entrepreneurs displayed their cacao related products and non cacao related products. Emanuel Pech was there on Saturday and has this report.
Centuries ago, back when money use to grow on trees, the Mayan civilizations used locally grown cocoa as their main source of currency. Several hundred years after and the Toledo community still uses the locally grown cocoa, the chocolate fruit as their main source of financing. Today, Saturday, was the biggest day of the festival, attended by over a thousand people. Stephanie Parham, the information officer for the BTIA Toledo Chapter and the main organizer of the event says that the main purpose of hosting the chocolate festival is two folds.
“Well its organized by TCGA and BTIA. TCGA, for the main purpose of the farmers who plant the cacao and they sell the beans for them. BTIA is based on the tourism aspect of it. It is a change for Toledo to expand the tourism season. We all know that the height of the season starts fading after Easter, this is like that last boast that Toledo needs. I must tell you that the Punta Gorda hotels are booked out, the restaurants are full, the bars are full. It’s not just about in the town, people from so far away take advantage of all the beauties that we have here in Toledo; the caves, the Maya ruins, the zip-lining, spending time in the villages and learning the culture and what Toledo has to offer. “
Belize grows three main varieties of cocoa, namely Trinitario, Crilollo and Forastero. The Toledo Cacao Growers Associations, TCGA, is the country’s largest association of cacao farmers, with over a thousand registered members and one thousand four hundred acres of land. This year, the TCGA farmers produced five hundred tons of organic and fermented cacao seeds.
“Well the TCGA provides technical support for the farmers. From the nursary establishment to the planting and post harvesting. We conduct different trainings on monalia, the postharvest. We conduct grafting training and so forth. We also offer the marketing because the farmers don’t have to worry about the market. It is the TCGA that secures the market out there. “
“We get our beans from the Toledo Cacao Growers Association, they are the ones who work directly with the farmers. What we do is we roast the beans, then we grind, we farther grind and we get paste. We then add the ingredients and that takes about three days before the chocolate is ready. Once it is ready, it goes through another process where we temper the chocolates, mold the chocolates and we have chocolate bars. We do dark chocolate, dark milk chocolate and milk chocolate. You can find our bars at Brodies in Belmopan and Belize City, and also at the International Airport. “
The Maya Mountain Cacao LTD, established in 2010, is a smaller organization of cocoa farmers but still very prominent in Toledo with over three hundred certified producers.
“I think that cocoa is just unique. It has a history, and the culture. You see people consume this product in their daily lives. It is just a matter of us bringing markets, bringing money to their pockets so that they can support their families, send their kids to school. That is the economy and that is the impact that our industry is having now in Toledo. “
Ixcacao Maya Belize Chocolate, established in 2005 is one of the largest Mayan own chocolate factories in the country. Owner and operator Juan Cho explains how he found his niche in this industry.
“It came about after understanding and learning about our cultural identity and of course we looked at the economic sustainability aspect of our programs. How are we going to sustain ourselves? We often look at Hersey’s, Snickers and all the other chocolates and ask ourselves the question,’ where is it being processed? How is it being processed? How is it made into a candy bar? where does it come from?’ When we look around we saw that it all comes from cocoa. Back in those days, we were selling cacao beans to Green and Black Chocolate Company in the UK to be processed down to Mayan grown chocolate bars. The Toledo Cacao Growers Association has been educating the farmers to add value, value added products. One way to take that initiative and that idea is to start from scratch. We started off from a stone tool that we had instead of a million dollar project. “
“Within the last ten years, we have seen a boom in the industry on a whole as it relates to the southern chapter of it. It continues to show that the possibility that exists and that the income that come directly to the people within the rural areas and even in the urban zones. we have been benefiting from this industry tremendously. What I like about the Chocolate Fest is that it promotes sharing what Toledo has to offer. If you go booth by booth, you will see the innovativeness of the residence of the Toledo District. It continues to show that we have the brain power, we have the likability and the peace and tranquility and the direction to come as it relates to tourism is Punta Gorda town and by extension, Toledo District.”
” We just want to keep that tourism coming. We want to boost that tourism. We want our farmers to know that we appreciate the cacaos that they grow because without the cacaos we can’t have chocolate.”
Thousands of people, chocolate lovers both foreign and local attended this national event to commemorate this cultural and historical fruit. reporting for Plus News, I am Emanuel Pech.
Last week the Maya House of Cacao, a project funded by the European Union and the Government of Belize, was officially opened. The facility will be used by the Toledo Cacao Growers Association to provide training for its members in the production of chocolate and host tours to educate visitors on the bio history of cacao.