Two years ago, the Cacao Source team was having their first vision quest. We had already established a production line of cacao from organic farms to women’s collectives to process, created a shop in San Marcos de Laguna, launched a website and were making cacao sales internationally, and had just completed our first-ever training program. There was a lot to be excited about!

Something that none of us were expecting, however, came through at that meeting. Surely, there was an underlying current within each of us– a deep desire to go back to the land. “Let’s create a permaculture education center!” At first, the comment seemed too dreamy, too outlandish. The more we dove into the idea, however, the more that things started to make sense.

Our goal with Cacao Source has always been to create an alternative to the norm of deforestation and monoculture that has been sweeping Guatemala, and much of the tropics for that matter. What we won’t do, however, is turn up on somebody’s land and tell them they’re doing things the wrong way. We would need to walk our talk if we’re going to prove to farmers that there’s a better alternative. We would need to prove it first.

Laurence at the Santa RIta where we envision to build ecoducation

The vision for Ecoducation is to cultivate cacao, and forests, and continue to research the best ways to grow and process it. So what’s the connection between permaculture and cacao? Here are four reasons that they fit together as sweetly as cacao beans in a pod.

1. Cacao creates symbioses in agroforestry systems. 

Let’s get down to the bare essentials of permaculture: growing food. The word “permaculture” is a fusion of “permanent” and “agriculture”. Permaculture proposes that instead of creating agricultural systems based on monoculture annual crops, which require high inputs (soil tillage, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides) to instead create food growing systems that imitate the abundance of nature. One such system is the forest. There is plenty of food for various animals in the forest, and yet it grows seemingly effortlessly.

Agroforestry is a food growing system that imitates the structure of the forest. Cacao is a mid-story tree that thrives in 50/50 shade and sunlight conditions. This makes it the perfect companion plant to grow amongst larger trees. Such larger shade trees could also be harvested later for their timber, such as caoba and cedar; or trees that also produce food, such as ramon and avocado. Other high-value products could also be grown within the nooks of the system, such as black pepper, vanilla, and coffee. Even the forest floor can be used to grow turmeric and ginger, which also help balance soil health. 

Cacao helps build the ecosystem over time by contributing copious amounts of leaf litter to the forest floor. This slowly breaks down and returns nutrients and organic matter to the soil. 

2. Cacao can be used to regenerate degraded ecosystems. 

Permaculture is about more than creating a sustainable future: it’s about creating a regenerative one. Nature may have the ability to heal and create abundance, but first, it’s going to need some help. 

Oftentimes, ecosystems are exploited for natural resources to create a capital gain. Regeneration doesn’t seem to offer the same financial gain. Again, cacao and permaculture work together for the solution. One incentive to regenerate land is to create economic incentives. Cacao creates that incentive because it has a high market value. Farmers can sell their overflow production to a cacao cooperative, such as Cacao Source. 

When combined with the nutritious crops listed in the previous point, you create a recipe for abundance! Abundance for the farmers, the water cycle, the soil microflora and fauna, and the forest creatures. 

Ecosystem regeneration doesn’t happen overnight. It takes observation, patience, and a good plan. If there are incentives, especially to create nutritious food for the farmer and financial gain, then there will be more motivation to get started. 

3. We’re creating a “permanent culture”

In addition to meaning a “permanent agriculture,” the term permaculture also means “permanent culture.” Culture reflects the norms of a society. We can ask ourselves, “What are the core beliefs of a culture that will continue to thrive for generations to come?” 

The current cultural paradigm, which has been compromising many indigenous cultures and replacing them with capital-centric viewpoints, has been undermining nature– the very life force that supports us. When we are driven purely by capital gain, we actually miss many of the greater virtues in life.

Like stewardship, reverence, connection, and love. These are the pillars of a permanent culture. 

Cacao is the medicine of the heart. When we live from the heart, we are more deeply connected to the magic that weaves the universe together. Life evolves from being a chore to a joy. When we live from the heart, we feel more positive and creative. This means that what we’re creating will also be positive! And that’s precisely what we’re cultivating for a “permanent culture”.

4. Permaculture is a bridge between ancient wisdom and the future.

The Ancient Mayans highly revered cacao for numerous reasons. One such reason was that they saw its essential link to the rainforest. Some parts of the rainforest were deeply feared. After all, they were laden with the wild unknown: dark shadows, prowling panthers, and venomous snakes. (Perhaps this fear of the wild unknown has caused many rainforests to be replaced with perfectly defined rows of single crops.)

What was true about the rainforest –despite there being very real things to fear– was the beautiful medicines being harbored inside. Cacao, with its creamy seeds inside breast-like pods, was seen as the embodiment of Mother Nature herself, offering her gifts, even in the most dangerous of places. Part of the Mayan Cosmovision directly relays the importance of conserving nature, particularly the rainforest, which is rich in biodiversity and life. The Cosmovision highlights the importance of human beings balancing their role between the Earth and the Cosmos. Stewarding nature is the only option for moving forward. 

To conclude, having a dream is just the beginning. Permaculture is also about doing the work. Presence, observation, and of course, taking action. We’re so excited to be putting this project into forward motion. It only makes sense on the scale of human evolution that we co-exist with the ecosystems that make life on Earth possible.

By Dorothy Morganna

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