Sustainable cocoa and coffee

Harvesting knowledge on cocoa in Central America

March 21, 2024

In the past five years, cocoa areas have expanded in Central America. The public sector of all the countries has incorporated this sector as one of its agricultural and agroindustrial priorities. Cocoa has a high potential, being a perennial crop that plays an important role in adapting to and mitigating climate change when grown under agroforestry systems.

However, the Central American region still produces less than 1% of the supply worldwide. That explains why this sector and the governments are especially interested in entering into niche and diversified markets. It is not through its volumes, but through its superior quality that Central American cocoa may be more competitive.

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1500 cocoa producers in 4 countries are targeted directly, another 6000 will benefit indirectly; 13 National Agencies of Agriculture, Environment and Economy and 120 other stakeholders belonging to different multilateral platforms across the 4 countries

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From 2018 until 2024

Main challenges

Understand the challenges and opportunities of the cocoa sector through the voice of their protagonists.

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  • At international level there is an increased demand for sustainability (most big companies will only purchase certified cocoa in the future), but a lot of producing families can't live from cocoa production, prices are volatile.

  • Cocoa production represents a potential for improving the livelihoods of small-scale producers, with different challenges: the areas destined for cocoa are much smaller, the product is not prioritised in the producer’s farm, small-scale producers have limited business and organisational capacities compared to the growing investments of big companies.
  • Cocoa producers (small-scale producers and private companies) are already suffering the impact of climate change and climate variability. At the same time, clear or precise strategies to face those challenges are lacking. It is therefore urgent that actors (producers, companies, services, public sector, financers, researchers, among others) join forces to identify and generate knowledge that allows facing the climate crisis nationally and regionally.

Our strategies and objectives

In its first stage (until 2018), the project succeeded in facilitating the creation of a common vision for Central American cocoa, and with that a regional platform (SICACAO) was created and at the same time, the national cocoa platforms were consolidated.

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In the next 4 years (from 2019 to 2022), the programme’s focus is on 2 areas:

  1. Knowledge and information management; various actors in the region generate and use evidence-based knowledge, facilitating the implementation of models of profitable agroforestry systems that are resilient to climate change, and the promotion of inclusive investments.
  2. Promoting governance at national and regional level, through strengthened multi-actor platforms, and facilitating the construction of policies and strategies aimed at increased competitiveness for cocoa in a sustainable and climate-smart way.

Learn more about SICACAO in this video.

Now, the Knowledge Management project is in its exit phase, led by Rikolto, in strategic alliance with the Secretariat of the Central American Agricultural Council (SECAC) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE). The focus during the last two project years is double:

  1. Guaranteeing the sustainability of the public-private multi-stakeholder platform in which the 8 countries of the region participate, that took shape under the project: the Central American and Dominican Republic Cocoa Committee (SICACAO).
  2. Strengthening the national multi-stakeholder platforms.
  3. Knowledge management based on the generation of evidence and the exchange of thematic experiences and business and trade development.

The national and regional platforms will continue to strategically influence the implementation of the Regional Cocoa Policy and Strategy, with the involvement of the Secretariat of the Central American Agricultural Council (SECAC).

Furthermore, a gender analysis will be carried out in the cocoa value chain at the regional level in order to understand the current situation and provide an action plan for gender and youth participation.

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What did we achieve so far?

Results of the first phase

  • In each of the 4 countries involved, a complete baseline study of the cocoa sector was completed, and also one at a regional level. Now we have updated information available related to different aspects in the cocoa sector.
  • Two communities of practice (one on profitable agroforestry systems and one on inclusive business models) are set up. Actors from both public and private sector from 7 countries of Central America participate.
  • We engaged in partnerships with 3 export companies based in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in order to document and learn from their inclusive business models and innovations.
  • Through the national platforms, we managed to develop and promote policies, legislations, strategies and national plans for the cocoa sector.
  • We co-developed an online tool to design smart climate cocoa agroforestry systems, with specific information on climate trends, appropriate agroforestry practices, and cost-benefit analyses. This portal will facilitate collective learning about Climate Smart Cacao. Partners are CIAT, WCF and Rikolto plus other players of both private and public sector across the region.
  • We promoted the implementation of 47 agroforestry systems in 4 countries with 4 partners (3 export companies and 1 local organisation).
  • We supported the creation of the Central American and Dominican Republic Cocoa Integration Committee (SICACAO) where 7 countries of the region are represented (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá and Dominican Republic).

Results of the second phase

  • The construction and approval of the Regional Cocoa Strategy was achieved in alliance with the Secretariat of the Agricultural Council (SECAC); the aim is that it becomes part of the Regional Agricultural Policy (RAP).
  • Events were organised together with partners in the region,: 3 national cocoa fairs, 1 regional (SICA) fair, 1 Central American Cocoa Fair, and we also presented these regional experiences at the Cocoa Fair in Peru.
  • The sustainability strategy for SICACAO and an implementation plan for its development were elaborated.
  • Three cocoa diploma courses were held for young people (70% men and 30% women). A total of 120 young people have been trained on cocoa production and postharvest processes. This was made possible through a partnership with the Colibri Foundation in Belgium.
  • A communication strategy was implemented to disseminate information, knowledge and the experiences of the countries in the Centra American region and the Dominican Republic, through digital communication in international and national media. In 2021 alone, SICACAO's social media publications reached 1,515,644 people interested in cocoa, chocolate and sustainable agriculture in more than 15 countries in the region.
  • Five Apps on the management of agroforestry systems were developed and implemented.
  • Two studies of business models between an export buying company and a producer organisation were carried out. As a result, two improvement plans have been defined to make these business relationships more inclusive and competitive.

A new strategy for the cocoa sector in Central America

In December of 2021, the Ministers of Agriculture of Central America and the Dominican Republic approved the strategy for the region’s cocoa sector, which is aimed particularly at increasing youth participating and tackling climate change.

Rikolto and the Executive Secretariat of the Central American Agricultural Council (SECAC) coordinated the development of the strategy together with all stakeholders part of SICACAO.

Read more

Who do we work with?

"We support the efforts of the Central American governments and platforms in the cocoa sector to create new dynamics." Ninoska Hurtado, Regional project coordinator (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

El Salvador

  • Centro Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria y Forestal "Enrique Alvarez Cordova".
  • Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería de El Salvador.
  • Mesa Nacional de Cacao.
  • Alianza Cacao.
  • Universities


  • Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganadería y Alimentación (MAGA).
  • Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo Agropecuario (CONADEA).
  • Asociación Mesoamericana de Cacao y Chocolates Finos (AMACACAO).
  • Mesa Agrocadena del Norte Cobán y Sur.
  • Instituto Interamericano de Cooperación a la Agricultura (IICA).
  • Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (UICN).
  • Universities


  • Comité Nacional de Cadena de Cacao de la Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería.
  • Sistema Nacional de Asistencia Técnica para el sector cacao en Honduras (SINATEC).
  • Proyecto PROCACAHO.
  • Heifer
  • Research centres
  • Universities


  • Cámara Nicaragüense de Cacaoteros (CANICACAO).
  • Comisión Sectorial de Cacao.
  • Lutheran World Relief.
  • Ritter Sport


Napoleón Molina

Sustainable Cocoa and Coffee programme director in Latin America | Regional director

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