Firefly Chocolate buys cacao primarily from Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC) in Southern Belize.
MMC works directly with 309 indigenous Maya farming families in 31 communities located in the foothills of the Mayan Mountain Range. While most cacao comes from large plantations in Africa, eating this chocolate directly supports these families. Farming is the sole source of income for 75% of MMC's farmer network, and cacao is the main cash crop - that's why 60% of what Firefly Chocolate pays for cacao goes directly to the farmers. We visit Belize each year, and verify these transactions personally.
The ancient Maya culture of cacao lives on to this day through these living Maya cacao farmers, who use traditional organic cacao based agro-forestry techniques, creating diverse, productive, and sustainable land use. Through MMC, farmers receive full assistance for becoming organic certified. The cacao from these farmers has received heirloom designation from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association. MMC also runs several nurseries that grew and distributed over 50k cacao seedlings in 2014.
Fermentation consistency is essential for making good chocolate, so MMC pioneered buying wet cacao from its farmer network, bringing it to a central fermentation and drying facility. This practice allows farmers to focus their efforts on growing cacao, while ensuring premium quality cacao with access to markets in the US and Europe, resulting in significant price increases paid to farmers. In a partnership with Kiva, MMC farmer's have also received access to over $150k in micro-loans for expanding their farms and improving productivity. As a sum result of these efforts, between 2012 and 2014, farmer average annual income more than doubled, from $161 to $389.
Firefly Chocolate and a few other bean to bar chocolate makers are directly reinvesting in MMC's efforts. Even before our public launch, Firefly Chocolate funded 10 acres of a 120 acre demonstration farm that protects an adjacent forest preserve, creates jobs for local cacao farmers, propagates heirloom cacao, and offers training for best practices in cacao agriculture.
Five years ago, farmers in Southern Belize saw little hope in growing cacao. Now in the communities there is considerable excitement, as more people are making right livelihood practicing traditional cacao growing. When indigenous small holder cacao growing thrives, the local ecosystems and culture thrive too.