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Only in Belize- Cacao in Cayo Print E-mail
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Friday, 05 October 2018 00:00

Thirty four year old Adrian Choco is a native of Punta Gorda. He has a mild demeanor mixed with an active life that has always centered on tourism. A native of the Toledo district, where he grew up cultivating cacao, Adrian moved to the Cayo district seeking better opportunities and he found it, becoming employed at Chaa Creek smack in the country’s largest foreign exchange earner, the tourism industry.

During the peak season, this year, some 6,000 tourists who visited the Cayo district passed through his Ajaw Chocolate ... the business, relatively small in size, is one he co-manages with his wife Elida. In 2014 Adrian decided he’d  no longer be an employee and parted ways with Chaa Creek and established the Ajaw tour where he combined the best features of his life, being good in the service industry and his background as a cacao farmer.

He started his business creating a unique tour in San Ignacio town. Here he brings cacao seeds from the Toledo district, and puts the visitor through an instructive tour of how the beans go from that state to being one of the most coveted substances on earth, the food of the gods- chocolate. He’s refined his tour to where demonstration segments show the drying process, the roasting and finally the grinding of the roasted beans to form the raw chocolate.

Using a grinding stone carved from volcanic rock, two young ladies artfully rub an elongated rock known as the ‘mano’ onto the bottom slate known as the ‘metate’. There is a grinding and heating process that transforms the solid beans into the delicate moist dark chocolate.

The resulting paste is given to visitors by teaspoonfuls in a small calabash. Warm water is added and honey, ground pepper or cinnamon is added. The drink is a deliciously rich one that is made from what is considered a super food.

Five years ago, by mere chance, he and his wife had gone swimming in the Macal River in Bullet Tree village when Adrian came upon a most unexpected sight. From the road side he gleaned what appeared to be a fully laden cacao tree (cacao is best known to grow in the Toledo district where it receives the needed amounts of rainfall and soil nutrients). The find then, was unusual, and Adrian quickly made his way into the 20 acre farm belonging to Mr. Marcelo Medina. Choco’s question to Medina was both simple and intriguing, “do you know what you have here?” he queried. Marcelo simply stated, “it’s cacao”. Choco stated, “it’s money on a tree!”

Thereafter the two developed a partnership where Choco buys all of the cacao the farm produces. He is now the beneficiary of Choco’s tour where he is paid a per head entrance fee from the visitors as the farm is now incorporated into the tour. The visitor then, gets the whole experience, from the point where cacao is a fruit with seeds in it to the delectable chocolate. Medina, at 78 years of age keeps attending to the farm, fetching cacao from the farm for demonstration samples to coconuts which are provided to the visitors as a refreshing drink as the tour of the farm takes place.

The Choco and Medina partnership is one made stronger as Choco has leased 3 acres of the farm along with its 100 cacao trees which include 3 varieties of the plant. Choco intends to plant an additional 400 trees that will come to bear within the next 4 years.

A few years ago, Medina’s daughter in law, also a Toledo native brought a sack of seeds and gave it to her father in law in Bullett Tree, Cayo. He was simply told that it was cacao seeds and that they had some value. A farmer at heart, provided with seeds, he did what he does best, he planted; the outcome was that a few years later he had fully bearing cacao trees. At the time he had no market for the product, selling a mere few pounds of seeds to a select few individuals who knew what to do with it.

Today cacao has turned the 78 year old farmer into an important link in a tourist attraction that in the high season employs 15 staffers and which even in the low season employs 6 persons.

These days Ajaw chocolate processes about a thousand pounds of cacao seeds with most of them coming from the Toledo district but with all of the Bullet Tree production being taken in by the company. The chocolate production is used as demonstration in the tourism industry as well as for exportation in powder form as well as in roasted bits.

The entire operation is one where tradition met tourism met farming met income generation met employment. It’s the classic example of how far reaching an effect the tourism industry is having on our economy.

Whenever you’re in San Ignacio, look up Ajaw chocolate, you’d be surprised and better informed of what it takes to make chocolate. More importantly you would have become a Belizean Traveler and for a minimum fee of 30 dollars for the tour, it’s a good deal!

Last Updated on Friday, 05 October 2018 14:49