Though hindered by extreme weather fluctuations resulting in flooded roads, power outages, and crop loss, and facing rampant deforestation (due to slash & burn agriculture, cattle grazing and logging for rosewood), SHI-Belize has been partnering with a variety of organizations to continue its efforts to improve the lives of local farming families in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts.
During the previous six months, the program has:
• planted more than 3,500 trees, such as cacao, craboo, soursop, mahogany, madre de cacao, bribri and rosewood;
• constructed 48 wood conserving stoves;
• conducted 15 formal training events in nursery establishment and management, cacao seed selection, planting and grafting, organic fertilizers, agroforestry systems and business management;
• assisted 21 families in the installation of vegetable gardens and production of cilantro, spinach, chard, okra, cocoyam, amaranth/ calaloo, cassava and more.
Numbers aside, the words of participants like Mateo Pan of San Pablo convey the true impact of SHI’s work: “I like that SHI worries about poor people like us. They worry about our health, what the chemicals and smoke can do to us, and they worry about cutting all the trees from the riverside and the pollution of our surroundings. This is the first organization that has come into our community and stayed for so long, so we know their concern is real.”
It has already been a busy year for SHI-Belize! They increased cacao production, participated in national debates regarding the impact of genetically modified corn, and worked with a consortium of public and private organizations to develop a national organic standard for Belize. Earlier in the fall, they staged their third annual organic fair, where more than 20 SHI- Belize participants and 18 local organizations exhibited their products. The national government and Ministry of Agriculture is now considering creating a nation-wide organic fair.
During the previous six months, SHI-Belize has
• assisted 177 rural farming families in Toledo and Stann Creek Districts • planted more than 3,000 trees with participant families, including cacao, moringa, mahogany and rosewood; • increased the food sovereignty of families by, for example, producing 95% of the corn they consume in a year;
• reduced new land burned for agricultural purposes by 11 acres; • improved production and commercialization for farmers. In some cases farmers increased income by more than $200 (roughly 50% of their yearly income).
On another note, farmers are still facing the devastation caused by leaf cutter ants (wee-wee ants, as they are called in Belize). SHI-Belize has been able to control populations with the planting of jack bean (Canavalia ensiformis). They plan to experiment with Mexican sunflowers as well, a native annual known to combat the leaf cutters.
Emphasizing multi-story forests and mixed plots, subsistence farmers working with SHI-Belize have increased their efforts to plant cacao, a major cash crop in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. The cacao seedlings being planted are still at least three years from their first harvest, but when they mature the wet beans will be sold to the local cacao cooperative Toledo Cacao Grower’s Association (TCGA), as well as Moho Cocoa.
During the last quarter of the fiscal year, participant families:
• planted 1,180 trees
• installed 59 composting eco-toilets
• cultivated 67 acres using sustainable and organic techniques
• organized 42 community training workshops attended by 154 families who would like to work with SHI in the future.
At the conclusion of the fiscal year, program participants had planted 12,687 trees, reforested approximately 50 acres, and managed more than 300 acres sustainably and organically.
This past fall and winter, SHI-Belize organized its 2nd Annual Organic Fair in Punta Gorda, which drew hundreds of visitors from across the country, including representatives from government and nongovernmental organizations. Twenty-two families participated, and they sold over 95% of their products (produce, tree seedlings, seeds, compost, etc), generating hundreds of dollars in income. According to one participant, Gordon Zuniga, he was able to sell over $200 in seedlings and compost, well over a week’s pay in Belize.
SHI-Belize staff and participants have been undergoing intensive training in rural community development and organic agriculture, and welcomed SHI board members and staff in January.
SHI-Belize participants reforested approximately 34 acres with over 9,000 trees. They expanded current cacao and agroforestry plots with a goal of future commercialization and protection of ecosystems. Staff conducted 124 training events with participants, including basic leaf-cutter management with jackbean (canavalia), cacao plantation care, cover crops and more.