Diversification: key word in times of Covid-19

Diversification: key word in times of Covid-19

in News
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Selene Casanova
Selene Casanova
International communications

"When they ask me what the effects of the pandemic were, I tell them that we cannot yet talk about effects while we are still going through the crisis," says Yuri Picado, Manager of the La Campesina cocoa cooperative in Nicaragua.

Because of the crisis, farmers are not making the 3 or 4-hour journey to the municipal market in Nueva Guinea or Matiguas, a journey that helps them get food and products for their basic basket - things they do not produce on the farms - including some vegetables, basic grains, hygiene products, alcohol and... masks.

La Campesina continues to export and sell its cocoa, but the 255 producers who are members of the organisation face other challenges, says Yuri, who has been working in the cooperative for nine years.

"I started as a member with two blocks of cocoa, then I grew due to training opportunities, I worked as a field technician, secretary, vice president and now I have been working for 10 months as a manager. I never imagined that I would have to deal with a situation like this".

According to SICACAO (Cocoa Committee of Central America and the Dominican Republic) the "real" impact of Covid-19 on the cocoa sector differs from country to country, depending of the severity of the mobility restrictions. In Nicaragua, the movement of the population has not been restricted by government regulations, but the population itself has decided to limit its mobility.

Agroforestry systems for resilience

Farmers have received seeds for chili peppers and other vegetables.

Rikolto has been financing the establishment of cocoa plots with agroforestry systems in the cooperative since 2017. The model combines cocoa planting with other products such as fruits, vegetables and timber species. The objective is to validate the resilience and profitability of the agroforestry systems and even their contribution to food systems in times of crisis. To date, 8 blocks, distributed over 4 demonstration plots, have been established.

In these systems, crops combined with cocoa must be nutritious, for instance citrus fruits, bananas and avocados, which are sources of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates. But these crops should also help improve the nutrition of the soil. Pigeon peas, for example, serve to fix nitrogen levels in the soil. Products such as bananas and fruits are also useful for feeding small livestock (chicken and pigs).

In the context of the pandemic, Rikolto has facilitated the delivery of seeds for the planting of peppers, tomatoes, other vegetables and corn. To date, 50 cocoa producers have received seeds. They have been managing uncultivated and treeless plots of land to grow these vegetables and thus ensure food security for their families.

At the beginning of the crisis we saw the opportunity to use this model of production - which we have been promoting together with La Campesina and its partners in the area - and deliver seeds for the planting of peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables, as well as corn for planting in between cocoa crops

Jorge Flores Rikolto Project Coordinator

The objective is to reach more producers either by selling the products at fair prices in the communities or by delivering seeds to other producers, who can then continue to plant and supply some food to the communities where the cooperative is.

The market

(Right) Yuri Picado, Manager of the La Campesina cocoa cooperative in Nicaragua during the cocoa fest, an event organised in Nicaragua.

The price of a tonne of cocoa on the New York stock exchange has fallen considerably. In February the price was around US$2,925 and in July it fell to US$2,094.50. In addition, many chocolate companies have stopped buying cocoa, as sales in European markets have declined due to the pandemic.

For Yuri, there is a latent fear that producers' food security will be affected if international prices and demand for cocoa continue in the same way.

"Because of social distancing, we stopped the visits of technicians who provide technical assistance on the farms. Now, at the cocoa collection centres, we are asking the producers who would be interested in receiving assistance with all the appropriate measures," says Yuri. "However, we are not organising any special activities or other extra efforts in production since we do not know if there will be a market for our product", she concludes.

Do you want to know more about Rikolto's work for the transformation of Nicaragua's cocoa sector through more sustainable models of cocoa production and commercialisation? Contact me or write to me via LinkedIn.

Jorge Flores Rikolto Project Coordinator