MayaGold Belize pioneers socially responsible cocoa farming using crowdfunding and ecotourism to jumpstart local development
Dateline: London, 31/01/2014
MayaGold Belize, a UK-based non-profit organisation, announced the launch of its IndieGoGo campaign to raise $800,000 for a unique social development programme in the Central American country of Belize.
The programmes is designed to benefit both the local economy and the world's chocolate lovers as MayaGold Belize will only grow the most prized cocoa beans.
The 60-day IndieGoGo campaign, which starts on the 1st of February 2014 aims to raise $800,000 as part of $1.3m round of second-stage capital funding.
These funds will be used to acquire a site in Belize for the development of a very extensive 250 acre organic cocoa estate, designed using modern farming principles and with the needs of local workers and the environment foremost.
"As a social enterprise we will deliver a range of economic and environmental benefits over the duration of the programme, like creation of jobs, training and economic benefits as well balancing these benefits with the interests of our supporters," says Colin Stanford -Francis, founder of MayaGold Belize and himself the grandson of cocoa farmers.
"You could say cocoa runs in my blood," says Mr Stanford-Francis." When I was growing up, I often asked myself why my grandparents had to toil so hard growing cocoa on their estate for so little return."
He realized that much of the blame lies with world's commodity markets, which give small cocoa producers such a raw deal. Crop disease, uneconomic smallholdings, poor-quality beans and government indifference also play their part in the declining interest in growing cocoa.
By cultivating 250 acres using modern methods and premium beans, MayaGold Belize hopes to stem the decline and have a major positive impact on cocoa production in Belize, where the average farm size is only 12 acres.
MayaGold Belize will produce a range of branded cocoa products from premium cocoa beans grown on its own estate.
"With a highly developed organic chocolate marketplace creating a growing demand for cocoa, particularly the high-quality Criollo and Trinitaro beans, we can achieve a higher price by adding value," says Mr Stanford-Francis
He sees this type of vertical integration as key to achieving a higher return than if they were to export the beans as commodity products.
The profits that will be generated in the long term will be ploughed back into developing the social enterprise model and benefiting the local economy.
Because it will take up to five years to harvest the first cocoa crop, MayaGold Belize will also market itself as an ecotourism destination, with the revenue from tourism activities being used to cover operating costs over the start-up period.
"Generating a revenue stream from ecotourism is critical to the success of the programme until we can start to benefit from cocoa production," says Mr Stanford-Francis
The lodge will have a dream location, with a dense backdrop of rain forest stretching out to the Maya mountains and looking out on to the Caribbean Sea. They are looking to create a facility where people can visit holiday and see the work of the estate and understand the work that goes into cocoa production and the tropical forests.
While Belize is well known to discerning tourists, particularly for its exclusive lodges, Mr argues that the social development philosophy that underpins MayaGold Belize will make it an attractive destination for socially-conscious tourists who want the money they leave behind to have a lasting social and economic impact.
As an added bonus for early investors, supporters who invest via the crowdfunding round will be offered the opportunity of discounted stays on the 250 acre estate all meals included,once it is operational.
A short video describing the MayaGold Belize project can be seen at: http://vimeo.com/84993797
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