Deliciously sustainable cocoa

Deliciously sustainable cocoa

In Nicaragua, a country that produces fine and aromatic cocoa, two cocoa farmers' organisations are working to reach the necessary competitiveness and sustainability to improve the quality of life of 565 farmers and their families.
This project is part of the following focus area:

The big chocolate companies (Nestlé, Mars and Barry-Callebaut) are forecasting a deficit of one billion kilograms in cocoa production for the next few years, caused by the increased demand for chocolate in new markets such as India and China and the reduction in production of the crop due to the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, small farmers responsible for 90% of cocoa production worldwide are struggling to escape poverty.

Chocolate production requires transformation, through creating more sustainable models of cocoa production and marketing that result in higher incomes for cocoa farming families, less impact on the environment, and a good quality product for the consumer.

In Nicaragua, cocoa cultivation has enormous potential to alleviate this situation in rural populations. It is one of the few countries in the Central American region with 80% of cocoa classified by ICCO as fine and aromatic, next to its neighbours Honduras (50%) and Costa Rica (100%). This cocoa fetches a 20 to 60% higher price for the farmer compared to conventional cocoa.

In addition to cocoa, farmers also grow coffee and corn and raise livestock. Cocoa is an additional source of income for them, but it is vital for their family economy, as they earn up to 50% of their income from the sale of cocoa.

To promote this paradigm shift that will benefit 565 cocoa farming families in Nicaragua, Rikolto is working together with two cocoa cooperatives with a proven track record as cocoa producers and exporters (with many classified as almost 100% high quality by companies such as Ritter Sport); to learn and validate production models that apply agroforestry systems and to promote the marketing of their products with inclusive business models.

With both cooperatives, the aim is to generate evidence that is scalable and serves to encourage the creation of policies that contribute to the development of the Nicaraguan cocoa sector

Jorge Flores Rikolto Project Coordinator

The member cooperatives are La Campesina, which has 255 farmer members from 30 rural communities, and the Rios de Agua Viva cooperative, which has 310 producer members, 30% of whom are women and 21% are young people. Both organisations are located in the department of Matagalpa.


  • The productivity is very low (on average 306.68 kg/ha) due to the aging of the cocoa plantations and the lack of adequate management on the plantations.

  • Limited access to credit to improve their business, productive and commercial performance, and their sustainability in general.

  • Prices are not always competitive. Access to new markets is essential to obtain better prices and at the same time increase the income of producers. Most cooperatives have very few buyers.

Our strategy

  • The professionalisation of the business capacities of the farmer organisations is fundamental, which is why Rikolto advises and finances the application of evaluation tools and methodologies such as SCOPE. We research different aspects of the functioning of the organisation, identify key areas of improvement, and design a training plan. This allows economic and human resources to be focused on improving key areas of the organisations.

  • We study cocoa on demonstration plots with agroforestry systems. This way, we build up evidence of the most profitable and resilient models that can be adopted by all producers. Each producer organisation is responsible for collecting information that is systematised each year to generate the desired evidence.

  • We facilitate commercial links between private enterprise and producer organisations at the national and international level. In this case, Rikolto finances the participation of cooperatives at events to offer cocoa and facilitate commercial partnerships.

  • We advise producer organisations on the inclusion of young people in the cocoa value chain and decision-making spaces.

  • We facilitate the creation of participation spaces for organisations in multi-stakeholder platforms where strategies and policies are created to improve the cocoa sector at national and regional levels.

  • Duration: 2017 -2021

  • Direct beneficiaries: 565 members belonging to the cooperatives La Campesina and Rios de Agua Viva

  • Indirect beneficiaries: 3,390 producing families

The lines of work vary in both organisations. With La Campesina, Rikolto is focusing on

  1. Contributing to the development of the organisation's professionalisation through advice and financial support.

  2. Facilitating the commercial relationship between the organisation, young cocoa farmers, and Belgian retailer Colruyt, who buys cocoa, under an inclusive business approach.

  3. Accompanying the organisation in the management of youth inclusion processes in decision making and in the value chain.

With Ríos de Agua Viva:

  1. Contributing to the development of the organisation's professionalisation through advice and financial support.

  2. Validating models of agroforestry systems to find out how they could generate income in the short and medium term for cocoa plantations managed by young people.

  3. Accompanying the organisation in managing processes of youth inclusion in decision making and in the value chain.

Achievements to date!

  • Increase in youth membership in producer organisations from an average of 5% to 19%.

  • Participation of both organisations in knowledge management spaces and platforms such as the Cocoa Commission of Nicaragua (COMCACAO) and the Cocoa Committee of Central America and the Dominican Republic (SICACAO).

  • Positive changes in the indicators of professionalisation in both organisations, measured with the SCOPE tool.

  • La Cooperativa La Campesina has entered international markets (Belgium and Japan).

  • The organisations have improved their organisational performance, by updating their members.