Name: Francisco Cho, Wife: Leonarda Cho
Children: 10 (7 boys, 3 girls). One of his sons, Crispino, 23, helps full time on the farm. Another son is in high school, other sons have jobs in the Belize army and come home on their leave to help their Mom and Dad.
Village: San Antonio (Indigenous Mopan Maya culture)
Years in MMC’s Organic Producer Network: 6
Cacao: “I got good support from my children. I feel good. Cacao is my future. I will stick on that. I will not stop clean that cacao—steady until I dead.”
On a peak cacao season harvest day, Francisco Cho, his wife Leonarda and their 23-year-old son Crispino wake up at 5:30am, before the sun has risen to prepare for a long harvest day in their family cacao field. After feeding the animals and preparing a quick breakfast of tortillas and packing a lunch of bean soup, they are on their way to the farm to harvest cacao. At 6:30 when they set out, the sun is up and the way is lit, a thirty-minute trek down a narrow dirt path called a picado that winds down the hill behind their home in San Antonio village into the verdant secondary rainforest of southern Belize.
Upon reaching the farm, the family gets to work, Cho and Crispino pulling ripe pods from the tree into piles were Leonarda cracks them open with club and pulls the fresh seeds into buckets. The harvest can take all day, and the work is tiring. After the harvest, the men haul the buckets of cacao back to their home, the same 30-minute walk they took in the morning, this time laden with hundreds of pounds of cacao. They must reach back in time to make Maya Mountain Cacao’s collection time. By 2pm they know the MMC truck is already rolling through the village, purchasing cacao from neighboring farmers. When the MMC team weighs the Cho’s cacao, loads it up and takes their leave, Cho and his family will have cash in hand as payment for their fresh cacao beans.
Compared to his other crops, Cho says his cacao field is the closest to him home, a short walk compared to his other rice and corn plantations, or milpas, that are planted more then 5 miles away.
Today, Maya Mountain Cacao staff has come to his house to inform him ahead of time of the opening date of the cacao-buying season, a standard visit for all farmers in MMC’s organic producer network. “It’s happy news you bring,” Cho tells the buyer from MMC. “I am happy you’re buying, I will sell it to you.”
Cho has a choice of who to sell cacao to, but to him, stability trumps the newer companies that come and go, offering a flashy price. “They come from nowhere with a high price but then they go away fast, too---you can’t find them again. That’s why I stay with Maya Mountain.”
Cho is determined to keep going, even though he says he often feels his age. “I got good support from my children. I feel good. Cacao is my future. I will stick on that,” he says. “I will not stop clean that cacao—steady until I dead.”