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The Human Ecology of Mayan Cacao Farming in Belize


Emch, Michael E. (2003). The Human Ecology of Mayan Cacao Farming in Belize. Human Ecology, 31(1), 111-131.


This paper describes the expansion of cacao farming among Mayan farmers in the Toledo District, Belize, during the 1980s and why the expansion took place. Land planted with cacao increased from 237 acres in 1983 to 1014 acres in 1990. The number of cacao farmers increased from 70 to 365 and beans sold to Hershey Foods Corporation increased from 1086 to almost 32,000 pounds. This paper describes the distribution of cacao farming in space and time and it uses a holistic approach to explain land-use/cover change. An ecologic model is proposed that explains the cacao expansion that involves the interaction of several forces. During the 1980s, Hershey Foods Corporation provided an unlimited market for cacao beans, agricultural loans and technical assistance were provided by international development agencies, and Mayan farmers planted cacao to gain usufruct rights to reservation and national land. During the 1990s a British organic food company became the new market for cacao beans.


Reference Type

Journal Article

Year Published


Journal Title

Human Ecology


Emch, Michael E.