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Feb 20, 2019

The Negative Impacts of Illegal Farming, Cattle Ranching on Cacao Farmers

Cacao farmers in Trio Village are living the negative effects of illegal cattle ranching and farming due to the lack of action by the Lands Department. Ya’axche Conservation Trust, which co-manages the Maya Mountain North Forest Reserve in Toledo, has been expressing concerns to the Lands Department which holds authority over more than three thousand acres of de-reserved land adjacent to the protected area. According to Ya’axche, certain farmers have been grabbing, clearing and fencing acres of land to carry out illegal cattle ranching and farming. These illegal activities are taking place in proximity to cacao farms, which are contaminated by chemicals or destroyed by grazing cows. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo was in the south today and has the following story.


Hipolito Novelo

Hipolito Novelo

“The livelihood of thirty-one cacao farmers in Trio Village is being threatened. The farmers entered into an agreement with Ya’axche Conservation Trust for the production of cacao plants and cultivation of wet cacao seeds. But as we saw today the future of these farmers is being threatened by activities such as illegal cattle ranching and farming.”


In June 2014, the Forest Department, Ya’axche Conservation Trust, and the Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association entered into an agro-forestry concession, allowing thirty-one farmers to use a little over nine hundred acres of land within the Maya Mountains North Forest Reserve for agriculture. A section of the selected land was designated for the production of cacao plants so farmers can harvest wet cacao seeds.


Christina Garcia

Christina Garcia, Executive Director, Ya’axche Conservation Trust

“So far they have managed to harvest over two thousand pounds of cacao just in the months of January and February this year. Prior to that, they had basically harvested over three thousand pounds and now their harvest is really increasing as the months go by.”


This is the first year that farmers have begun harvesting cacao. It took them more than three years before they could have begun doing so. For most, it’s their only source of income. The farmers are trained in best agricultural practices, and as an association, their goal is to produce organic cacao. But a 2015 decision to de-reserve two-thousand-three-hundred-and-ten acres of land within the reserve has not only attracted squatters but the negative impacts that come along with them. Executive Director for Ya’axche Conservation Trust, Christina Garcia, highlighted a fence which was illegally erected along a portion of the Trio Branch River in the de-reserved section.


Christina Garcia

“The farmer wants to put in sheep and cows in the area. He doesn’t have an area where the cow can actually go and drink water. So he is using this to allow the cow to come down and drink water. But at the same time, posing a threat to the water here because then you have an issue of contamination. Then you have an issue of people who depend on this watershed and this source who live down the stream for their own consumption. There is a sixty-six-foot buffer zone that needs to be respected. In this case, it is not respected any at all. That is mandatory. That is across the law. It is not being respected so we want the lands department to come and implement these rules and regulations, some of these lands because it is obvious that it has an impact on the work that we do.”


Hipolito Novelo

“The authorities can remove this fence?”


Christina Garcia

“The authorities can remove this fence.”


Garcia says that for the past three years, large plots of land have been cleared for illegal cattle ranching and farming.


Christina Garcia

“As you can see behind me, there is fencing that falls right within the river but you also have a lot of clearances and cattle ranching in the area. Ya’axche has been liaising with the Lands Department to try to do some sort of monitoring of the area but to put some kind of control because it is a challenge to the agro-forestry concession. You have cattle ranching you have milpa farming, burning, the use of pesticides and chemicals that drift into the area. Now you have a problem with the cattle coming into the area. Sometimes some of these cattle escape and they go into the agro-forestry concession and trample some of the plants or eat some of the plants.”


But the troubles of the cacao farmers are far worse. The association still has hopes to be a certified seller of organic cacao, but its goal has been blocked by illegal farming and cattle ranching. Farmers on the de-reserved section are using methods opposite to best agricultural practices. They are using chemicals that drift into cacao plantations, contaminating what should be organic cacao. This prevents the association from being certified.


Johnston Ical

Johnston Ical, Secretary, Trio Farmers Cacao Growers Association

“It affects us equally because as a group we have a goal, we have a mission to complete. Right now it is affecting out certification which is something very important to this group because if we do not have that certification then we cannot sell out product as organic. We should have been certified by now but due to these setbacks then it’s time lost. We have had a visit by one of the certifiers and those were the things that he mentioned to us. That we must ensure the certification beforehand and we must address those issues when it comes to the use of pesticides.”


Hipolito Novelo

“Plot number ten has been allocated to Jose Tut and his family. They are currently harvesting over seven hundred cacao plants. Today we caught up with the family and they managed to harvest a sack of wet cacao beans. They sell the cacao beans for one dollar per pound.


Johnston Ical

“The way how the farmers go about harvesting cacao, as you can see we need to inspect each plant and determine the ones which are fully ripened and pulling it down and gather them in one location. Then they start cracking the pods to extract the actual cacao beans. It is placed in a container. It is weighed and then sold to the buyer.”


It’s an increasingly frustrating situation for the NGO and association, especially since the Trust has been reaching out to the Lands Department to address the matter. In fact, according to Garcia, a land use plan was presented to the Lands Department but any sort of initiative on behalf of the department has been nearly nonexistent.


Christina Garcia

“We have not received any response from the Lands Department as to why they have not moved and done something about what is happening within the area. Ya’axche like I mentioned has gone to the extent of providing a land use plan. A land use plan that basically outlines where your buffer zone should go, some of the practices that can be used within the area but that has gone like I mentioned, on deaf ears. It is really frustrating over the past three years because we have farmers who are doing best agriculture practices within the area and then you have the de-reservation that buffers the area where you see all these illegal activities occurring.”


If the concerns are addressed, the cacao farmers have the opportunity to make about a million dollars in the next few years. Hipolito Novelo, News Five.

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