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Growing Ethically: A Look at Maya Mountain Cacao

We created Raaka to make chocolate that reflects the human element in every bar. Chocolate, a source of joy for many in the West, is often the product of g...

At Raaka, we believe the only sustainable business is ethical business. Our chocolate bars are the final product of entire livelihoods, all across the production line, from the planting and growing of the Theobroma cacao trees, to the fermenting, shipping and final handcrafting into a tasty bar of unroasted, virgin chocolate.

We set out to create chocolate that reflects the human element in every bar. Chocolate, a source of joy for many in the West, is often the product of great injustice throughout the developing world. The chocolate industry has historically exploited the foundations of its business: the farmers and the land. In the past decade, several major chocolate producers have been linked to child labor and poor wages, while the monoculture model of the cacao farm has been responsible for rampant deforestation. 

Our cacao has always been fair trade and responsibly sourced. In 2013, we began sourcing cacao beans from Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC). MMC is a partnership impact enterprise based in Belize, which aims to improve the wellbeing of regional cacao farmers and provide them with the resources to create and maintain sustainable agroforestry.

Maya Mountain Cacao was founded in 2010 to enable Belizean farmers to produce top-notch cocoa beans and earn a true living doing so. They now source from 275 certified organic farmers, who manage over 600 acres of organic, shade grown cacao, and are each paid above the Fair Trade price floor for their beans. MMC’s high price standards have now forced their competitors to raise the prices they pay farmers, putting even more money back into the hands of the community and improving the quality of life in the region.

“The farmers are now driving the market”, says Maya Granit, Managing Director at Maya Mountain. This year, MMC began the “Seedling Project”, planting 80,000 cacao seedlings over the course of a few months, creating twenty new jobs for regional workers, four of them women, and expanding sustainable agroforestry. “It’s very empowering”, Maya says of the increase in female farmers in the region. Among the women is MMC’s own Kiva Coordinator and Administrative Assistant, Ann Marie Cho. This year, Ann Marie will begin her very own cacao farm.

Cacao farming is tough business, and the demand for high quality beans is rising. So far, Maya Mountain has proven up to the task; they have expanded into Guatemala and reported a record 300% increase in yields, from 5 MT in 2010 to 30MT in 2013.

A strong sense of community is critical to MMC's success. Justo Ico, a Maya Mountain farmer, became too ill to harvest his cocoa. The community pitched in to harvest his cacao for him, allowing him to sell and profit, despite his illness. Without a solid support system, Justo might not have been able to recoup the fair rewards of his labor. 

The passion for growing cacao radiates out of local legend Eladio Pop, featured in our video look at Maya Mountain below. Eladio is one of the most prolific farmers in the region, and fine chocolate makers all over the world, including Raaka, use his beans. He began his farm, Agouti Cacao, over 25 years ago with his wife Virginia, in order to provide a prosperous life for themselves and their fifteen children. His farm is now a full 30 acres, a model of a successful cacao farm for the region. His son, Gabriel, is now the Field Director at MMC.

The results aren't just in the livelihoods of the farmers; Maya Mountain’s beans taste exquisite. “Maya Mountain Cacao does a great job of adjusting their fermentation levels to get optimal flavor”, says our chief chocolatier, Nate Hodge. “They’re really on the cutting edge.” Nate loves the fruity, tropical flavor of MMC’s beans; they've made their way into our Bourbon and Yacon bars.

Cacao is personal, to us, to Maya Mountain Cacao and to the farmers they support. Together, we hope to spread an awareness and consideration amongst chocolate fans worldwide, for the lives built and supported by their consumption. Chocolate is more than just a confection. it's an entire way of life, at all ends of the spectrum, from bean to bar.  

Find out more about Maya Mountain Cacao at their website

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