Cocoa beans from the Criollo tree, native to Nicaragua, are prized by gourmet chocolate makers for their exceptional aroma, flavor and quality. Fine cocoa typically commands a price anywhere from two to five times higher than conventional cocoa. Yet Nicaragua exports fewer than 1,000 tons of cocoa a year, almost none of it fine cocoa.
In 2006, TechnoServe began assisting 80 small-scale farmers to capitalize on the business opportunity presented by Criollo cocoa. These farmers have planted about 100,000 native cocoa trees and resumed production on cocoa trees that had been abandoned. Chocolate makers such as Domori and Ritter Sport have already expressed interest in the high-quality cocoa.
By 2013, TechnoServe expects farmers in the program to export about 70 tons, or $200,000 worth of cocoa. The long-term vision is to help as many as 25,000 farmers participate in the industry. And by planting or preserving more than 300 acres of trees, the program is helping to preserve Nicaragua’s rich biodiversity.