We have been involved in cocoa sustainability programs for many years, and the system has evolved markedly over that time. Certification has been an essential first step in raising awareness of the challenges all players in the supply chain face in protecting the environment, their workers, products and customers. But it is time-consuming, expensive, open to manipulation, and farmers rarely see the benefits.
Since operations started in 2017, CBL has implemented many regenerative agricultural practices such as mulching, composting, planting trees in an agroforestal arrangement, the use of biochar and amending the soil with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. While no clear standards have emerged, it is now time to create a baseline of our activities so that we can demonstrate:
- the work we have been doing in regenerative agriculture
- how this has improved the environment and contributed to combatting climate change and improving the environment for people, flora and fauna.
In the absence of science based, clear standards we do our best to demonstrate progress using any clearly defined methods, and ones that we think will develop in the future. Some are obvious, like electricity and fuel usage, but others like measuring soil carbon will probably not be clear for many years. Our approach will be not letting “perfect be the enemy of good”. If its close enough, its good enough. We are not here to reinvent the wheel – if there’s a good method, we will copy it and attribute.
Corridgeree is in the process of mapping all the farms from which we source agricultural products, using our own proprietary Bean Base system based on ODK Collect, an open source system using Android phones in places with limited cellphone coverage. We are grateful to Compete Caribbean for funding to support this program through its 2021-22 Regional Ag-Tech Pilot Project for the Caribbean.
Our program starts with information that helps farmers raise their incomes and protect the environment, and from there evolve to providing customers with confidence that their products were grown safely and sustainably. It is a long process and entirely self-funded, but crucial to protecting the supply chain. Stay tuned for more as we turn data into information, into insights and into action.
In the last year we have accelerated our composting program, which incorporates biochar, vermiculture, bokashi composting and a composting program incorporating agricultural waste including coconut husks, corn, pineapple, plantain, tree prunings and vegetable waste using our trusty chipper. This program has basically reduced food waste on the farm to zero and provided crucial soil cover to our cocoa and vanilla crops, which retains soil moisture, reduces irrigation requirement and creates an environment for beneficial microbes to thrive. Through this we are also working on developing a micro-organism mix to speed up breakdown of these materials to make them bio-available to our vanilla and cocoa plantings.
What have we done so far?
We have trained our team on regenerative agricultural principals and put them into action, making our farm a working model for other farmers in Belize
- We measure the volume of compost created and applied to our crops
- We have mapped our own farm and keep an inventory of every tree and plant in production
- We track use of farm inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and other agricultural inputs
- We track and report fuel, electricity and water usage
- We analyze water quality on a quarterly basis
- We track compost production and solid waste production
What have we learned so far?
- Plans, presentations and pitch decks are easy. Execution is hard.
- Getting to scale is hard. As part of the Missing Middle of agricultural enterprises, we sit between small scale farmers and large farming enterprises.
- There is no playbook to get to scale, rather it is taking a series of carefully considered bets, avoiding distractions and focusing on long term goals.
- It’s all about the people and systems. Find good people, train them, learn from them, then get out of their way. Build self-reinforcing systems to reduce rework.
- Mistakes are part of the process. Learn from them and move on quickly.
- And learning is lifelong.