In Central America, cocoa farmers are ageing, as are their cocoa plantations. Trees have low productivity and are sensitive to diseases. Turning the cocoa business into a profitable business means not only adapting agroforestry practices, but also encouraging a whole new generation of motivated farmers to participate in the cocoa value chain.
Nicaragua is the second poorest country of Latin America. Does cocoa have the potential to change the living conditions of the farmers? Nicaraguan cocoa is recognised as “fine-flavoured cocoa”, however, this potential is endangered because farmers are ageing (the average age is 58 years), and the cocoa trees they grow are sensitive to diseases and have low productivity.
In this context, about 11,000 producers are dedicated to cocoa cultivation; more than half of them are organised in farmer organisations or cooperatives (57%), the others are individual producers. Roughly 20% of their income comes from cocoa. This percentage could increase if they start adopting agroforestry practices: combining the cocoa trees with other crops to diversify their sources of income.
Women as well as young people in rural communities are faced with complex obstacles, such as the difficult access to land, to credit, work and to participation in decision-making. This obliges them to consider migrating to the city as their only way out, exposing themselves to various risks.
Motivating youngsters to actively participate in the cocoa sector is both a challenge and an opportunity.
To make a difference in this reality, Rikolto, together with the Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt (through its Collibri Foundation), is promoting a training programme for young cocoa farmers. This programme includes the participation of the Nicaraguan cooperatives La Campesina and Ríos de Agua Viva, and the Honduran association APROSACAO. About 100 young cocoa farmers from Honduras and Nicaragua participate in the diploma course "Technology for Cocoa Production under Agroforestry Systems", taught by the FHIA (Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research) and CURLA (Regional University Centre of the Atlantic Coast, linked to the UNAH, the National Autonomous University of Honduras).
This way, Rikolto and the Collibri Foundation contribute to strengthening the capacities and technical knowledge of young farmers in sustainable cocoa production. "One day I will be a technician at the cocoa cooperative La Campesina", says Nedelin Mairena, a 20-year-old cocoa producer. She is participating in the third edition of the course "Cocoa production under agroforestry systems".
This project also includes an export agreement for the cocoa produced between the young men and women partners of La Campesina, and Colruyt Group. The young people apply modern and sustainable production and handling techniques for the cocoa, which is then transformed into chocolate for the supermarket’s consumers in Belgium.
Listen to what the youngsters have to say about this project! (video in Spanish)
The project consists of 4 stages:
The project runs until 2021 and, in the first phase, targets 75 young people in the area of different cooperatives:
Also, the 300 extra young people participate in trainings in a second phase:
In addition, the programme will also extend to young people from Caribbean cocoa producer organizations such CROPROASERSO in Honduras.
The different training modules are designed for and taught to the young people by the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research (FIHA) and the Regional University Centre of the Atlantic Coast (CURLA).
The goals set out in the project have been exceeded, with more participants than expected and other elements of impact:
"I spent almost the whole month with the youngsters in the 2019 course. Is incredible to see how even the agronomists from the cooperatives gain new knowledge. They were surprised to learn how the things they've always been doing were not correct."
"I am excited to be recognised by others in my village. I now have these new ideas and learnings, and I am motivated and ready to apply new knowledge for the handling of my cacao plot."