Sustainable cocoa and coffee

SICACAO: the engine that drives cocoa from eight countries

March 20, 2024
Marcia Zavala
Communication Coordinator

Unity is strength, as demonstrated by the Cocoa Committee of Central America and the Dominican Republic (SICACAO), a platform made up of eight countries, which has benefited more than 60,000 cocoa farmers and their families.

"SICACAO is a powerful force, because we are regional and we represent all countries."

María José Canales | COMCACAO, Nicaragua.

Challenges and opportunities for Central American cocoa

Only 1.44% of cocoa production in the Americas comes from the countries that make up the Central American Integration System (SICA). This percentage is exacerbated by differences in productivity, quality, costs, prices and supply chains, as well as the difficulties of fulfilling the sustainability-driven regulations that are implemented by global markets, such as the European Union’s Zero Deforestation Initiative.

However, most SICA governments have prioritised cocoa in their agricultural policies that are aimed at strengthening their comparative advantages and improving the competitiveness of the value chain. Private sector action and international cooperation, adapted to national dynamics, are also complementing these efforts.

Coordination bodies bringing together public and private actors in the cocoa value chain at national level has also facilitated the integration of the sector and the development of a common vision in the region. As a result, the cocoa sector in the SICA countries has seen growth in recent years: Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic grew from producing 74,406 tonnes of cocoa beans in 2013 to 98,700 tonnes in 2017.

The cocoa sector has also regained importance due to the environmental, cultural, economic and social benefits it brings to producer families and other actors in the processing and marketing value chain.

SICA governments have given priority to cocoa in their agricultural policies. These policies aim to strengthen their comparative advantages and improve the competitiveness of the value chain.

A model of regional collaboration: SICACAO’s achievements

These developments prompted the creation of SICACAO in 2017: a public-private multi-stakeholder platform, facilitated by the Knowledge Management of the Central American Cocoa Value Chain-GESCON (PROCACAO) project, implemented by Rikolto and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Over 60,000 cocoa farmers have benefited from:

  • Regional collaboration: SICACAO has set a benchmark in Latin America, being the region’s first organisation with both public and private representatives of the cocoa value chain. It promotes stakeholder consensus and articulates initiatives to develop a competitive, inclusive and resilient regional cocoa sector.
  • Political advocacy: By representing the public and private sectors in each country, the platform has succeeded in placing the cocoa sector on the political agenda. It has also been recognised by the Central American Agricultural Council (CAC) as the interlocutor for dialogue and liaising with cocoa value chain actors at the regional level on key public policy issues and for implementing the Regional Cocoa Strategy.
  • The Regional Cocoa Strategy (ERC): The Regional Cocoa Strategy for Central America and the Dominican Republic (ERC) was created as a public policy to guide sustainable change in the cocoa value chain.
  • Knowledge sharing: The platform has contributed to the capacity building of its members by facilitating communities of practice, made up of thematic groups of experts and specialists who are active members, and by engaging in joint actions with strategic allies such as academia, CIAT, CATIE, WFC, enabling access to manuals and methodologies to improve governance of the value chain.

With Rikolto's facilitation, PROCACAO provided SICACAO with tools and evidence to strengthen the competitiveness of the cocoa sector, the formulation and approval of the Regional Cocoa Strategy, the assessment of gender integration in the cocoa value chain and sustainability for the platform.

Among the achievements, Ninoska Hurtado, coordinator of PROCACAO, highlighted the consolidation of the SICACAO Community of Practice as a technical arm and its positioning based on a planned communication strategy.

"The creation of the SICACAO platform is one of the great measurable achievements. Being part of the regional agenda of ministers in the CAC is good because it facilitates in one way or another the improvement of policies and public investments in the countries".

Aníbal Ayala | FENAPROCACAHO, Honduras.

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Lessons learned from SICACAO

In addition to its achievements, the SICACAO consolidation process has offered lessons and good practices for future processes. Among the most important lessons are: continuous advocacy at regional and national levels, which strengthens stakeholder leadership and allows plans and strategies to adapt to changing contexts; shared governance, which is essential to meet the challenges associated with the formation; development and self-sustainability of the platform; and the promotion of flexible membership rules that promote equity and stability.

The advocacy process that led to the recognition of SICACAO was achieved through its integration into the Working Group on Competitiveness, Trade and Agribusiness (GT-CCA) of the Central American Agricultural Council (CAC). This process was carried out in a structured and coordinated manner, with a roadmap implemented by the SICACAO Governance Working Group and support from the PROCACAO project, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Executive Secretariat of the CAC. This initiative involved lobbying the governments of each country and a communication campaign to position the issue with key stakeholders.

This committee is also playing an active role in addressing key issues such as the participation of small producers and the visibility of the role of women and youth in promoting an inclusive and sustainable value chain.

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SICACAO’s best practices for building a sustainable cocoa sector

  • The integration and participation of diverse stakeholders (private, public and cooperation) was facilitated by the development of a regional cocoa strategy with a value chain approach. This strategy provided a systemic vision of problems and opportunities to define strategic lines.
  • Building and socialising knowledge proved to be an effective strategy for strengthening capacities, enabling informed decision-making in multi-stakeholder platforms and putting topical issues on national and regional agendas, such as sustainable food systems, climate-smart agriculture, gender equality and intergenerational cooperation.
Annual Meeting of SICACAO at IICA, Costa Rica, 2019.
  • Using the digital environment and its tools for synchronised integration of communication and socialisation of knowledge helped to maximise results in positioning the work of platforms such as SICACAO and in scaling up productive and commercial models.
  • The communities of practice have been an effective mechanism for the construction and socialisation of knowledge, focused on strategic needs at the regional, national and local levels. The experience of the different trainings offered by SICACAO confirmed that the use of new digital technologies can facilitate access to environments and interest groups, such as young people and women.
In May 2021, PROCACAO carried out a field validation of 5 apps for cocoa management. This on-farm validation involved Nicaraguan cocoa farmers and technicians.
  • The appropriate design of ordinary and extraordinary meetings of SICACAO members, including spaces for knowledge building and exchange, has helped to give a voice to actors. This is a successful practice for achieving positioning and maintaining the momentum of action.
  • The dynamic meetings of the multi-actor platforms helped countries and actors to agree to bilateral actions, based on their own initiatives, interests and resources, involving business alliances and the exchange of technical and market information. Leaders in the cocoa sector are seen to have an active relationship, which members recognise as one of the benefits generated by meetings and other SICACAO activities.
Academic exchange between the National Agrarian School of El Salvador (ENA) and the Centro Universitario Regional del Litoral Atlántico (CURLA - UNAH) of Honduras, in July 2023, in San Salvador.
  • International organisations specialised in research and academia working together as an integral part of SICACAO, with technical assistance from high-level experts, has made it possible to take a scientific approach to the processes of knowledge socialisation. Being able to salvage the ancestral local knowledge of the indigenous peoples is also of crucial importance.

  • Download here the systematisation (in Spanish) of the SICACAO experience.

Editor: Selene Casanova (International Communications - Rikolto)

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