Learning about Cacao Production
José Miguez Fernández was born in Spain and his plan was to stay in Guatemala for two years. His life took another turn. 52 years have passed since then and he still resides in the country. Currently, he’s living in the Villa Amanda farm in San Antonio Suchitepéquez. It’s there that he’s dedicated to the cultivation and commercialization of cacao in Guatemala. EntreMundos had the opportunity to converse a little on the subject with José Miguel.
EntreMundos: Tell me about how the planting process of cacao is done
José Miguel: First, you have to choose a good seed that comes from a good plant that produces fruits with a good aroma and flavor and that doesn’t get sick much. The seed should be healthy and you should choose the best one to plant it. You should prepare a bag with a mix of black soil, fertilized, and with a little bit of sand; at eight days the metita starts to sprout and it can be prepared two ways: when the bush sprouts, you have to wait approximately three months and plant it in the field afterward. The other way is to wait those three months and then you can look for another plant of good quality to make a graft in it and plant it in the field.
To plant the cocoa seed, you need to plant the thick part down because that’s where the roots are going to grow from, and the pointy part goes up, that’s where the bush will grow. In the field you can see them planted directly (without graft) as well as the grafted ones. In a way, the second option is more promising, since it’s a very productive plant, it’s resistant to diseases, and it’s also excellent quality.
The ideal climate to plant cacao is along the entire southern coast of Guatemala like Mazatenango and Chicacao in Suchitepéquez; San Felipe, Retalhuleu; Malacatán, San Marcos; y Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa, Escuintla, since these areas give better qualities in flavors and aromas. Aslo, you can plant it in some other designated zones in other departments like Malacatán, San Marcos; and Santa Lucía. Cacao is harvested at 800 metres high; if it’s cultivated at a higher altitude, the plant will grow, but it produces less since it’s no longer in its natural habitat.
Does it need a special kind of soil for its growth?
I don’t have much knowledge on this subject, but the land we have is fantastic, it’s deep, it has black soil and good quality. I have a parcel of land where there is a lot of rock and we’ve planted. It’s incredible because both sides are fertile. I think cacao adapts quite well.
Is it possible to do some kind of combined planting with cacao?
Yes, it’s possible. Although I think cacao should be pure. Cacao needs guidance. That is to say it needs trees that give it shade. Because in the summer the sun is very strong, and in order to protect it you have to plant very tall trees like palo blanco or palo volador. For me the latter is
best, since it produces lots of leaves and makes good compost; In addition it grows a lot and lets a little light and sun through that the cacao needs. If the cacao has too much shade, it gets sick from fungi. And if it doesn’t have shade it doesn’t develop or produce well. Some plant coconut trees, although the most recommended are timber trees since they can also be used for carpentry.
Does the cocoa plant produce any benefit for other animal species?
Yes, although unfortunately these little animals many times become a nuisance. For example the cheje bird; it pecks and sucks the nectar of the fruit and ruins it. The squirrel eats the better part of the fruit and the rest is left thrown about and is a loss for the grower. What I do is leave bananas and plantains so that they eat them and not the cacao.
Tell us a little about the cacao harvest
It’s a tree that flowers several times a year. Every time it’s going to bear fruit. We review the crop and choose the ripe ones for harvesting. This raises the value of the product a little because, even though there is a little, time is lost walking through the whole crop to see if there are fruits to harvest.
Are changes in the climate affecting the planting and harvest of the cacao?
Yes, definitely, because a heavy rain out of season damages the flowering that’s at its peak, so it makes the flowers fall. Unfortunately our worst enemies are the fumigations that they do in the cane plantations. They use a searing product for the cane. That kills the flower and the fruit. I think this even does more damage than climate change.
In addition to having the plantation, we produce more than 15 chocolate and cacao based products, like jellies, syrups, ice cream, vinagre, disinfectants, soaps and others. The farm offers tours so people can learn about the plantation, the process and transformation of cacao. It gives them the chance to taste the pocha (the cacao fruit) or drink a cacao refreshment. Also they can see a little house of cacao. The area around the farm has a recreation center with a pool, canopy, boats, fishing and a restaurant to spend an enjoyable day.
You can visit Villa Amanda Farm in San Antonio Suchitepéquez, southern coast of Guatemala/Panamerican Highway, kilometre 146.