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Argidius Foundation

Catholic Relief Services' partnership with the Argidius Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the COFRA Group, an international corporation, began in the late 1990s, when the foundation was among the first to support CRS' microfinance programs.

Cacao producer extracting cacao seeds.

A cacao producer opens cacao pod to extract the "cacao en baba" (cacao in pulp form) for sale to the cooperative-run cacao collection center. The fruit must be of adequate ripeness to pass the rigorous quality control of international buyers. Photo by Silverlight for CRS

In 2007, CRS and the foundation began a new stage in their partnership with the foundation's support for a job creation program in rural Moldova. In late 2009, the foundation and CRS launched a project to improve employment and income for cacao farmers in rural Nicaragua. To date, the Argidius Foundation has generously provided more than $3.2 million in support of CRS programs.

Improving Livelihoods Through Agroforestry Cacao Production in Nicaragua

The three-year Improving Livelihoods Through Agroforestry Cacao Production project, which ended in December 2012, increased and improved employment and incomes for 732 small farmer households in the environmentally sensitive zones of Rancho Grande (Matagalpa Department), Waslala and Siuna (North Atlantic Autonomous Region, or RAAN) in central/northeastern Nicaragua. More than 10,000 family members of producers, farm laborers, staff of the cacao collection and processing centers, and other small producers in the area benefit from project interventions.

The targeted geographic areas have been particularly affected by the prevailing livelihood pattern of slash and burn cultivation which now threatens the Bosawas Biosphere, Nicaragua's largest rainforest. Poverty drives the vicious cycle of land clearing, intensive cultivation, abandonment of depleted land, and clearing of new land: average income for more than 40 percent of the population in this area is less than $1 per day. Small producers in the target areas have limited physical and financial assets, few possibilities for other employment, and little access to technical or financial resources to sustainably improve their livelihoods.

The project helps producers increase yields from existing cacao plantations and expand cultivation to land they are not cultivating or are cultivating with less profitable and resource-depleting crops. The agroforestry approach, which involves maintaining different types of trees along with cacao to provide the proper shade canopy for high-quality cacao, protects this land from deforestation and helps producers significantly increase production. Finally, the project assisted local cooperatives to set up infrastructure and train personnel on how to properly collect, ferment and dry cacao so that it meets rigorous international quality standards and fetches the highest price for small farmers.

Work at the cacao collection and processing center

A Cacao Collection and Processing Center worker moving "cacao en baba" in a fermentation tray during the cacao fermentation process. Photo by Silverlight for CRS

Significant project achievements include the following:

CRS implemented the project through leadership of a diverse, multi-organization partnership which brings significant experience and both technical and financial resources. The partnership included the German Social-Technical Cooperation Service (GIZ), which has been providing cacao technical support in the region for several years and has strong relations with the chocolate company Ritter SPORT; ADDAC, a longstanding CRS local partner with extensive experience in cooperative strengthening, organic approaches, and agro-enterprise; and COOPESIUNA, which brings a solid member base and firsthand experience in cooperative production and marketing.

For more information on the Argidius Foundation, please visit http://www.argidius.com/en/default.asp.

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