Sustainable cocoa and coffee

Sustainable production and a living income: The challenge for a new generation of cocoa farmers

August 14, 2023
Marcia Zavala
Communication Coordinator

"Cocoa means everything," says 26-year-old Israel Mairena. He is very happy with what cocoa has brought to his life and that of his family in Rio Blanco, Nicaragua.

Cocoa, a superfood with growing demand on the international market, relies on farmers who face the effects of climate change and insufficient income to make a decent living. A scenario that may not be encouraging for new generations. That is why Rikolto and the Belgian retailer Colruyt Group, through their Collibri Foundation, are partnering with the La Campesina cooperative to support the development of new skills and job opportunities for young people along the value chain.

Young farmers in course of cocoa production under agroforestry systems. 2023

In Nicaragua, the average age of a farmer is 58. To make cocoa a sustainable business, a whole new generation of farmers must be encouraged to actively participate in the cocoa value chain.

Knowledge management and technology are part of the solution to ensure sustainable cocoa production in Central America. The Cocoa Youth Power project recognises that young people have the power to lead the change the sector needs.

Israel Mairena.

Israel believes that “when well cultivated” with sustainable practices such as agroforestry systems, soil can be a source of decent income for a family, without compromising the environment for future generations.

"I enjoyed learning more about cocoa farming. I've shared this experience with my friends. I wish more young people would grow up and join organisations like La Campesina Cooperative," said Israel Mairena.

He's one of 40 young people the Cocoa Youth Power initiative aims to support from 2023 to 2025. The initiative will also support 30 entrepreneurs and provide training in sustainable production to around 120 young people.

That's how young people are key not only to business development, but also to ensuring decent incomes for the growth of their communities.

A new generation for a new context

The initiative has its roots in Nicaragua. The country stands out in Central America as a producer of fine, aromatic cocoa. There are around 11,000 producers in the country, which is experiencing a significant migration of young people from the countryside to the cities, partly due to a lack of job opportunities.

In Nicaragua, producers are distributed across several areas, mainly in the South Atlantic (Nueva Guinea, Bluefields, Kukra Hill), the area of Las Minas (Siuna, Bonanza and Rositas), the North Atlantic (Waslala, Río Coco), Matagalpa, Jinotega and Rivas.

Since 2017, the programme, initially involving Nicaraguan cooperatives La Campesina and Ríos de Agua Viva, has been jointly run by the Collibri Foundation, part of the Colruyt Group, and Rikolto. The first cycle concluded in 2021, involving 300 young cocoa producers. This set a precedent for the Cocoa Youth Power project.

Group of cocoa farmers in diploma course on "Cocoa Production in Agroforestry Systems" in 2021. Picture: Boceto/Rikolto.

In 2023, these efforts enabled the fifth edition of the diploma course on "Cocoa Production in Agroforestry Systems".

This edition involved 18 young people from the La Campesina cooperative (including Israel Mairena). With the support of the "Knowledge Management of the Cocoa Value Chain of Central America and the Dominican Republic" project, this phase also involved 4 young participants from Honduras and 3 university educators from El Salvador.

Agroforestry systems involve diversifying land use by incorporating other crops into cocoa plots, benefiting the plantations and generating additional income for farmers when cocoa isn't being harvested. Rikolto promotes their adoption to provide smallholders with additional income, improve soil management and increase climate resilience.

“The new generations, young people (both women and men) who can find opportunities in the sector and its organisations, are the future of crops like cocoa and agriculture. That’s why, with the Collibri Foundation’s support, we’re contributing to their preparation, opening doors for more inclusion and enabling them to earn a decent income through their participation in the chain, both in production and other services provided by their organisations.”

Fausto Rodríguez - Cocoa Director of Rikolto’s Sustainable Cocoa and Coffee Programme in Latin America.

The project includes an export agreement for cocoa produced by the young partners of La Campesina and the Colruyt Group. The young people employ modern and sustainable techniques to produce and handle cocoa, which is then transformed into chocolate for consumers in Colruyt supermarkets, boasting over 220 stores in Belgium.

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“We intend to establish one hectare of cocoa using the SAF system. This will involve 40 young people from La Campesina who have completed the SAF course. Our aspiration is that they will join the supply chain of the Colruyt Group in Belgium, where Boni chocolate, made with cocoa produced by other young Nicaraguans, is already sold.”

Lourdes Zamora -Sustainable Cocoa and Coffee Programme Coordinator at Rikolto.

We are very pleased with the impact of the training process. Some of the young people have aspired to leadership positions and have a broader vision of where they can strengthen their organisation,” Lourdes says.

Forty cocoa plots in agroforestry systems are planned. The parents of the young people who participated in the training will provide these plots. The parents are also members of the La Campesina cooperative. They will give their children access to one hectare of land each.

Rikolto and the Collibri Foundation will supply the young individuals with technical support, cocoa plants, timber trees and other inputs, including beehives to encourage the development of beekeeping.

Group of young cocoa farmers who completed the course at CURLA (Atlantic Coast Regional University Centre) facilities.

Youth knowledge networks for Central America

The use of environmentally unfriendly practices has reduced the productivity of cocoa plantations. It has also made them more susceptible to disease. Transforming cocoa into a sustainable business also means promoting agroforestry systems and innovation.

The Cocoa Youth Power project is working on four components to transform the cocoa supply chain: training young people, sharing knowledge, providing technical assistance and creating a regional cocoa training network.

Rikolto has been facilitating an academic exchange between the ENA (Roberto Quiñónez National School of Agriculture) and CURLA (Regional University Centre of the Atlantic Coast, linked to the UNAH, the National Autonomous University of Honduras).

In the process, both institutions shared experiences, knowledge and lessons learnt, creating synergies and strengthening ENA’s curriculum, which will include cocoa farming based on SAF, as well as free mobility agreements for students and teachers from both institutions to support each other beyond cocoa.

There are also plans to continue the collaboration with UNAH-CURLA in the process of business and entrepreneurship training for other young La Campesina members or children of entrepreneurial members who can provide services in the cocoa value chain in Nicaragua.

Seed capital will be facilitated through credit terms with the organisation to ensure the start-up and sustainability of their businesses. “In this way, we are helping to improve the capacity of human capital, creating opportunities to diversify their income and reduce the gap to ensure local and sustainable livelihoods that lead to long-term economic growth and reduce migration,” adds Lourdes.

A technical team from La Campesina is also preparing the methodology and tools to enable the young people who participated in the 5th Diploma in Agroforestry Cocoa Systems to replicate what they have learnt with other young people who did not have the opportunity to participate. The aim is for each person to reach three other young people.

In recent years, the La Campesina cooperative in Nicaragua has managed to place 110 tonnes of quality cocoa on the export market. This cocoa was produced or processed by young people who took part in the five editions of the Diploma in Agroforestry Cocoa Systems offered by the National Autonomous University of Honduras at the Regional Centre of the Atlantic Coast.  Young people from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica have also participated in the training processes.

Do you want more information? Contact us:  

Lourdes Zamora -

Fausto Rodriguez -

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