Humidtropics scientists participated in the First International Sustainable Fine Cocoa Production Congress in Managua, Nicaragua. The event, which included 250 participants from the public and private sectors, academic and research institutions, and farmer cooperatives and associations, was an exchange that generated inputs for Nicaragua’s National Cocoa Plan. This crop development strategy is being elaborated in alliance with farmers, cooperatives, commercialization businesses, and research and development actors at a national level, as a response to the growing demand for cocoa in international markets.
Nicaragua has approximately 12,000 hectares of land suitable for cocoa production, of which only 9,000 are producing around 100,000 quintals. A little over half of this production is exported, generating 5 million dollars annually for the country.
“This plan is aimed at reactivating the country’s cocoa fields, to improve both yields and quality,” expressed Miguel Obando, subdirector of the Nicaraguan Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).
The topics discussed during the congress included worldwide fine cocoa production and high yields: the impact of climate change on cocoa production; efficient practices and technologies for the management and conservation of cocoa varieties; cocoa production in agroforestry systems; and opportunities and challenges for the commercialization of Nicaraguan cocoa.
Humidtropics contributes to national cocoa development strategy
A session discussing the impacts of climate change on cocoa production revealed that the country’s suitable cocoa production areas will increase in the coming decades, due to reduced precipitation and increased temperatures in the North and Caribbean regions. Furthermore, climate change mitigation and adaptation measures for the region were identified, underlining that most cocoa farms have low yields due to a lack of adequate structures, high vulnerability to plagues and diseases, and inadequate management of soil fertility.
In response to these challenges, Humidtropics, alongside local organizations through the Cocoa Territorial Learning Alliance, are in the process of designing and validating a data collection toolkit to improve decision-making at farm level, seeking to strengthen cocoa farm management. The results of this process, conducted alongside cooperatives, farmer associations, technical schools, and civil society organizations, were shared with the Agroforestry Systems for Cocoa Production table.
Local organizations have been using this tool to collect data alongside farmers in their plots, aiming to observe the state of cocoa farms, analyze their current management, and make decisions to implement better management practices.
“The cocoa decision-making toolkit consists of seven thematic workbooks, which technicians from local organizations use to observe, analyze, and make decisions alongside cocoa farmers,” explained Falguni Guharay, Humidtropics scientist at CIAT. “Currently, we have completed a work cycle with 64 farmers. At the same time, we are elaborating an online information system to share the workbooks and the data generated on the farms. This will allow us to provide adequate follow up during the process, observing changes and promoting collective learning about agroecological intensification of agroforestry cocoa production systems.”
Humidtropics’ Cocoa Learning Alliance teams up with HarvestPlus to bring improved bean varieties to Waslala
1.7 tonnes of beans with high-iron content were delivered to 40 farm families in the Nicaraguan municipality of Waslala, to be planted for the first time in their plots. This seed dissemination initiative, led by HarvestPlus in collaboration with the Cocoa Territorial Learning Alliance established by Humidtropics, delivered 47 lbs of the INTA Nutritivo bean variety and 46 lbs of INTA Ferroso seeds to each participating family.
Through this seed distribution initiative, 17 hectares of this crop will be established in order to perform a study of rural families’ acceptability of these bean varieties. Aside from having various resistance levels to extreme climate conditions and common diseases, these high-iron content bean varieties are an important resource to reduce malnutrition in rural farm families. Iron deficiency results in increased vulnerability to illness, as well as reduced learning capacity and ability to perform physical labor. It also increases the risk for severe anemia, which raises women’s mortality during childbirth.
Marbelis Mairena and her husband planted these new seeds in their plot alongside traditional bean varieties, seeking to compare each variety’s yield. However, the effects of the El Niño caused a prolonged drought period in Waslala, followed by heavy rains.
“We are very thankful for this bean variety,” Mairena expressed. “When we had too much rain, the other beans became moldy, but these did not, there wasn’t a single moldy bean. Besides, it’s delicious, and softer than the others. It yielded enough for us to eat and save some seed to keep increasing our production.”
This initiative was conducted with the support of FIDER, CARITAS-Matagalpa, CRS, Asociacion Familia Padre Fabretto, and INTA, in direct collaboration with Humidtropics’ Cocoa Territorial Learning Alliance.
“Having the support of the Cocoa Alliance was an enormous advantage,” said Byron Reyes, HarvestPlus scientist at CIAT. “The local organizations’ staff, their networks, and their knowledge were crucial for the successful completion of this process. Without the Alliance, we wouldn’t have been able to deliver the seeds to this area.”
The Territorial Learning Alliances are a network of local development and extension organizations, established by Humidtropics to facilitate its mission of promoting sustainable intensification of integrated agricultural systems. Made up of 41 organizations, the Alliances work for the development of coffee, cocoa,and mixed crop-livestock production systems in Nicaragua’s center-North region. These organizations include academic and research institutions, public sector, civil society, and farmer associations and cooperatives.
Humidtropics would like to acknowledge the CGIAR Fund Donors, and other donors and investors for their provision of core and project-specific funding without which the Program could not deliver results that eventually positively impact the lives of millions of smallholder farmers in tropical Americas, Asia and Africa.
Blog by Shadi Azadegan, Communication Officer, Central America and the Caribbean, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).