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.
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.
Significant project achievements include the following:
- By applying project-promoted cultivation techniques, producers increased average yields per plot by nearly 45 percent over the baseline. This translates into greater income from the same amount of land for poor rural farmers.
- The project helped small farmers significantly increase their incomes: average annual income from cacao totaled $914 in 2012, a 59 percent increase over the project baseline.
- In the project's final year (2012), the three participating cooperatives sold nearly 824,000 pounds (373.65 metric tons) of dried, fermented cacao (the input for chocolate), generating revenues of more than $1.2 million. Over the project's three years, the amount of cacao sold by the cooperatives more than tripled and continues to grow.
- The cooperative with the least experience with cacao at the beginning of the project has progressed from collecting 20 quintals of cacao in pulp form per month before the project to more than 300 quintals per month.
- The cacao collection and processing centers established through the project are not only processing much larger volumes of cacao; they are consistently meeting high quality standards: 97 percent of the cacao sold in 2012 met the export market standards of such buyers as the German chocolate company Ritter Sport.
- The project introduced organic cultivation techniques in 1,406 acres of land (more than double the project target) and assisted many producers to obtain organic certification, thereby helping producers protect the environmnet and receive the highest price for their cacao (certified organic cacao represented 30 percent of total cacao project exports).
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.