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Programs : Brochure

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  • Locations: Belize City, Belize; Placencia, Belize; Punta Gorda, Belize
  • Program Terms: Summer 1
  • Costs Sheets: Summer 1
  • This program is currently not accepting applications.
Dates / Deadlines:

There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
Program Description:
UTK Birds, Bees and Chocolate in Belize

Program Description

Belize Cacao

Chocolate is one of the most popular foods. We celebrate with chocolate, we give it as a gift, we use it to show admiration and love towards others, we create art with it, we use it for beauty and health, and we reward ourselves with it. However, the modern conception of chocolate has diverged widely from its ecological and cultural foundations. Cacao (Theobroma cacao) has a complex history, with important cultural, religious, and ecological roles, making it an ideal focal crop for evaluating socio-ecological dynamics, species interactions, conservation, and agricultural sustainability, many elements of which would apply to most modern crop species.

This program encourages students to examine the relationships among wildlife, chocolate, and forests through cultural immersion, presentations, field experiences, and numerous hands-on activities. Undergraduate and graduate students from any major or college are welcome to join this one-of-a-kind learning experience to Belize. Students in this faculty-directed program will visit and stay at the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE). Students will explore the crossroads of sustainability, natural resource management, and cacao-based agroforestry - how it relates to the efforts being made to stem the loss of biodiversity in Belize, a small and rapidly developing country. BFREE promotes cacao-based agroforestry as one solution to halting rainforest destruction and restoring tropical lands, but still faces many challenges to making sustainable cacao cultivation a profitable reality for local land managers.

BFREE was established in 1995 to conserve the biodiversity and cultural heritage of Belize. BFREE's biological field station is situated on a 1,153 acre privately protected area in Toledo, Belize's southernmost district, and adjoins the Bladen Nature Reserve and three other governmental protected areas. The field station provides a base for local and foreign scientists, as well as students, to carry out research and educational activities. Over the past 10 years, BFREE has investigated the possibility of cacao as a viable and valuable shade crop on their reserve and in other parts of southern Belize. BFREE first studied cacao agroforests as "bird-friendly" habitat and have ultimately confirmed what they had suspected - that cacao grown amongst intact forests under the shade of forest canopy is simply more hospitable to all wildlife than the alternative, full-sun monocultures. BFREE recognizes the delicate line between destructive agricultural practices and sustainable ones. However, as the population of Belize expands and pressure increases on the natural resources, the country needs models for environmentally sustainable development and farming practices, and trying their best to meet that need. Moreover, BFREE treats cacao development as an experiment in sustainable agroforestry, including experimental treatments of percent shade, data collection, and tracking the economic viability of the shade-grown cacao.

Program Highlights

Activity Examples:

  • Night tour of Belize Zoo
  • Guided tour of a chocolate factory
  • Tours of local banana farm
  • Exploration of Maya culture, and traditional making of cacao and Maya cacao drinks, herbal remedies, and cooking
  • Guided early morning and sunset birding walks
  • Night hikes in search of wildlife
  • Black lighting for insects
  • Documentary film viewing
  • Hands-on experience working with cacao (e.g., farming, harvesting, fermenting and drying, roasting, grinding)
  • Chocolate-making activities, culminating in the making of your own chocolate
  • Cacao-related service and learning
  • Instructor-facilitated group discussions of sustainability of cacao agriculture
  • Completion of a research project (1-3 individuals per group)

Academic Credit

Students who successfully complete the program will receive 3 UTK credits for one of the following courses:

  • AGNR 491 - International Experience in Agriculture and Natural Resources,
  • EPP 493 - Independent Study in Entomology or Plant Pathology or
  • EPP 531 - Special Problems in Entomology, Nematology and Plant Pathology "Sustainability, species interactions, and cacao-based agroforestry in the Neotropics"

Program Housing

Students will stay in private cabins and bunkhouses in shared rooms. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided each day with the exception of some travel days.

Accommodations are included in the program fee.

Belize Cacao Sample Housing
Belize Cacao Sample Housing

Cost Information

Your program costs include: tuition, a program fee, a study abroad administrative fee and additional program-related expenses. The program's detailed cost sheet outlines the fees that are billed to your myUTK account and the estimated out-of-pocket expenses. You should carefully review costs, budgets, and financing when selecting and preparing for your experience abroad. If you have any questions at any step of the process, we encourage you to reach out to the program contacts for guidance.

Dr. DeWayne Shoemaker
Program Director, Professor and Department Head
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
371 Plant Biotechnology Building


Dr. Laura Russo
Assistant Professor
Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
210 Ellington Plant Sciences Building

Laura Russo

Anne Hulse
Assistant Director
Programs Abroad Office - Melrose Hall

Anne Hulse

Funding Your Study Abroad Program

You should carefully review costs, budgets and financing when selecting and preparing for your experience abroad. If you have any questions at any step of the process, we encourage you to reach out to your Programs Abroad Coordinator for guidance.

Steps to Financing Your Study Abroad Program

  1. Review the program's Costs Sheet to understand the breakdown of program expenses.
  2. Consider your Financial Aid options.
  3. Search and apply for scholarships and grants on our Funding Opportunities tab.
  4. Review your UTK financial aid package and speak with One Stop about applying it to your study abroad program costs.

If you wish to use your HOPE Lottery Scholarship for the summer term, you may be eligible to receive a prorated amount of $1,000 but you must be enrolled in a minimum of 6 credit hours.

Unique Funding Opportunities for Herbert College of Agriculture students

Information Sessions

Wednesday, October 30, 2019 at Noon in the Student Union Room 262C

This program is currently not accepting applications.