Ixcacao’s innovation consists of developing an organic, sustainable farm that allows all living things to flourish: humans, animals, plants, or cacao beans. Juan and Abelina Cho work to avoid the mono-cultural farming techniques used by many large scale corporations, and instead, create what they call an “agree-culture.” Their hope is that their customers will taste delicious chocolate, and understand that it comes from completely natural and organic farming processes. With this, Ixcacao can spread sustainability throughout San Felipe, Belize, and the rest of the world.
Juan Cho speaks of the unique and involved chocolate making process he and his employees engage in every day. Ixcacao is home to 15 employees who each help to complete the life-cycle of the chocolate process. The process begins when they select cacao beans from their pods which takes seven days before they germinate. After that, they set up nurseries for the plants. The nursery will grow for three months before the plants are transplanted to a different area of the farm. The trees take between four and five years before they start producing their own cacao pods, at which point they are harvested. Cacao production is a very time-consuming process that begins with composting and ends with the cacao beans being roasted, shelled, and packaged for delivery. Despite the extensive amount of time it takes to produce the chocolate, Cho ensures that he promotes sustainability with organic farming techniques and preserves the natural resources of the environment.
The Chos are also committed to bringing their innovative, sustainable farming techniques to the next generation which attests to their desire to share their innovative process with others to help create change throughout their community. This is part of what makes Ixcacao so unique: every step of their chocolate making process involves young people who can learn and engage in these techniques in the future.
Their motivation for creating such a company that promotes sustainability efforts is rooted deeply in their dual passion for their heritage and their community. They both are of Mayan descent and take pride in preserving their heritage. Also, they share a deep desire to not only better their community but to preserve the beauty and natural resources of Belize. He explained that a lot of their inspiration stemmed from a desire to "try to make people conscious about farming and how it should be done to preserve the environment."
However, It was not easy for the Chos to originally establish their innovative process and they had to begin from scratch. They set in place a business plan that was met with resistance at first. They became business pioneers and started Ixcacao using their own stone tools from 2000-2010 because of a lack of resources and little funding. With time, they eventually obtained the money to implement more up-to-date technologies that they could use to continue their farming practices. He truly believes and emphasized that “chocolate will save the rainforest.” By combining these two passions, they found motivation and inspiration in wanting to start a Maya Belizean chocolate company that focused its core mission on organically produced chocolate and sustainability practices. Therefore, their entire company is driven by their innovation which is not only practiced in their company, but more importantly, serves as the basis for Ixcacao’s core mission.
It is important to think of the impact of Ixcacao’s innovations by understanding its interaction with people, the community, and the global environment. The health impacts from their innovation are apparent. Ixcacao does not use any high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified organisms, or artificial colors in the production of their chocolate. Chocolate that is produced naturally and without synthetic stabilizers does not carry with it negative effects and can contribute positively to one's health. This company is able to be successful, and market/sell its product well, all while promoting their goal of organically produced chocolate.
This also helps the surrounding community as well as the entire world. Sustainable farming is about using various efficient techniques and the preservation of the natural world and, most importantly for Belize, the rainforest. He discusses “agree-culture,” which is his motto for a new revolution. His hope is that “people around the world become aware of sustainable farming practices, and agreement is created between different people, animals, and plants.” This cooperative form of farming plants the seeds for change in the greater community. The short-term effect of the innovation is increased understanding of Mayan culture and sustainable farming for the community, plus a healthier society. The long-term effect is increased education of the youth in Belize and a greater global awareness of how chocolate can be made in a sustainable fashion, and how environmental well-being should be a main factor in mission statements and company practices worldwide.
During our interview, we asked him about his overall mission of Ixcacao. He said it was to “educate rural communities surrounding them about food, security, and restoring our natural resources through conservation as well as educating the rest of the world. Ixcacao’s innovations, from educating the young public to their sustainable farming practices, are helping them fulfill their mission statement. The benefit to the business seems to be social and environmental rather than something instantaneously financial.
Rather than hiring professionals, he takes the time to educate and inspire locals in the area. This is not only a financial benefit to the surrounding area, but also a cultural enhancement in building a better educated and more socially conscious community. If Ixcacao can continue to practice these aspects of their business that are so crucial to their development as a company, they will continue to achieve their desired impact and their innovation will be felt locally and worldwide. Ixcacao is also giving back financially to the economy in their community rather than solely focusing on the sale of their own chocolate bars. He noted how the business tends to attract tourists due to its unique approach, and this helps put money back into the economy.
Ixcacao also has an innovative practice where it brings high school students into the farm to learn about the basics of integral farming practices. This creates an extremely positive impact throughout the local community especially through increased job opportunities. Rather than hiring professionals, he takes the time to educate and inspire the local youth. In addition to educating both local youth and tourists about sustainable farming techniques, Ixcacao also donates their extra crops to the local community to help give back to society. He believes that “educating rural communities surrounding them about food, security, and restoration of natural resources through conservation” is crucial. As clearly stated in their core mission, Ixcacao believes in the importance of teaching the next generation
Ixcacao works in tandem with Sustainable Harvest International which is a U.S. based non-profit company that aims at addressing the tropical deforestation crisis in Central America with the hope of overcoming poverty and restoring the natural beauty of countries such as Belize. Sustainable Harvest International was established because of an undeniable link between such poverty rates and environmental degradation. Ixcacao has successfully established and implemented a sustainable process of producing chocolate, and thus, is capable of serving as a role model to surrounding farmers. Their collaboration with Sustainable Harvest International shows Ixcacao’s desire to help conserve and restore the tropical rainforests of Belize, the environment, and other countries within Central America.
Juan Cho, Founder and Owner
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San Felipe, BZ
Business Website: http://www.ixcacaomayabelizeanchocolate.com/index.html
Year Founded: 2000
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
Ixcacao Chocolate is no ordinary chocolate factory. Ixcacao is a Mayan, family-owned company that employs locals for its organically grown chocolate and serves both the local community of Belize and countries abroad. Ixcacao goes above and beyond meeting its bottom line, and this passion is woven directly into its production process. Ixcacao Chocolate meets four of the Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health and Well-Being, Responsible Consumption and Production, Life on Land, and Decent Work and Economic Growth.