Harvesting knowledge on cocoa in Central America

Harvesting knowledge on cocoa in Central America

Contributing to enhanced competitiveness and inclusion of farmers in the regional cocoa value chain.
We support the efforts of the Central American governments and platforms in the cocoa sector to create new dynamics.
Ninoska Hurtado
Regional project coordinator (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala y Nicaragua.
Ninoska Hurtado

In the past five years, cocoa areas have expanded in Central America. The public sector of all the countries has incorporated this sector as one of its agricultural and agroindustrial priorities. On the other hand, cocoa has a high potential, being a perennial crop that plays an important role in adapting to and mitigating climate change when grown under agroforestry systems.

However, the Central American region still produces less than 1% of the supply worldwide. That explains why this sector and the governments are especially interested in entering into niche and diversified markets. It is not through its volumes, but through its superior quality that Central American cocoa may be more competitive.

Meet the challenges and opportunities of the cocoa sector through the voice of their protagonists.

Adapting to climate change

Cocoa producers (small-scale producers and private companies) are already suffering the impact of climate change and climate variability. At the same time, clear or precise strategies to face those challenges are lacking. It is therefore urgent that actors (producers, companies, services, public sector, financers, researchers, among others) join forces to identify and generate knowledge that allows facing the climate crisis nationally and regionally.

The project “Knowledge Management in the Cocoa Value Chain in Central America”, executed by Rikolto with the support of the Swiss Development Cooperation (COSUDE – Cooperación Suiza para el Desarrollo), is an answer to this call, and aims at increased competitiveness and sustainability of the regional cocoa sector through incidence in national and regional policies, and promotion of knowledge management.

Currently, it is in its second stage of execution (2018 -2022), and 4 Central American countries are participating : Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The project focuses on documenting, validating and /or disseminating evidences of the application of agroforestry systems as production alternatives that are more resilient against climate change, and promoting inclusive business models to establish fairer commercial relations between producers’ organizations and purchasing companies.

Therefore, the initiative, also called “Cadena Cacao”, promotes strengthening of multi-actor spaces (platforms, prototypes or workgroups), in the countries and in the region, that allow understanding the opportunities and limiting factors of the sector, considering producers, transforming companies, processing companies, governments, consumers and all the actors in the chain.

Main challenges

  • At international level there is an increased demand for sustainability (most big companies will only purchase certified cocoa in the future), but a lot of producing families can't live from cocoa production, prices are volatile.
  • The cocoa culture represents a potential for improving the livelihoods of small-scale producers, with different challenges: the areas destined for cocoa are much smaller, the product is not prioritized in the producer’s farm, small-scale producers have limited business and organizational capacities compared to the growing investments of big companies.

Our strategies and objectives

In its first stage (until 2018), the project succeeded in facilitating the creation of a common vision for Central American cocoa, and with that a regional platform (SICACAO) was created and at the same time, the national cocoa platforms consolidated.

In the next 4 years (starting 2019), the programme’s focus is on 2 areas:

  1. Knowledge and information management; various actors in the region generate and use evidence-based knowledge, facilitating the implementation of models of profitable agroforestry systems that are resilient to climate change, and the promotion of inclusive investments.
  2. Promoting governance at national and regional level, through strengthened multi-actor platforms, and facilitating the construction of policies and strategies aimed at increased competitiveness for cocoa in a sustainable and climate-smart way.

Learn more about SICACAO in this video.

Our partners

  • 1500 cocoa producers in 4 different countries are targeted directly. Another 6000 producers will indirectly benefit from the project .

  • 13 National Agencies of Agriculture, Environment and Economy and 120 other stakeholders belonging to different multilateral platforms across the 4 countries are involved.

Who do we work with?

El Salvador

  • Centro Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria y Forestal "Enrique Alvarez Cordova".
  • Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería de El Salvador.
  • Mesa Nacional de Cacao.
  • Alianza Cacao.
  • Universities


  • Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganadería y Alimentación (MAGA).
  • Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo Agropecuario (CONADEA).
  • Asociación Mesoamericana de Cacao y Chocolates Finos (AMACACAO).
  • Mesa Agrocadena del Norte Cobán y Sur.
  • Instituto Interamericano de Cooperación a la Agricultura (IICA).
  • Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (UICN).
  • Universities


  • Comité Nacional de Cadena de Cacao de la Secretaría de Agricultura y Ganadería.
  • Sistema Nacional de Asistencia Técnica para el sector cacao en Honduras (SINATEC).
  • Proyecto PROCACAHO.
  • Heifer
  • Research centres
  • Universities


  • Cámara Nicaragüense de Cacaoteros (CANICACAO).
  • Comisión Sectorial de Cacao.
  • Lutheran World Relief.
  • Ritter Sport

What did we achieve so far?

  • In each of the 4 countries involved, a complete baseline study of the cocoa sector was completed, and also one at a regional level. Now we have updated information available related to different aspects in the cocoa sector.

  • Two communities of practice (one on profitable agroforestry systems and one on inclusive business models) are set up. Actors from both public and private sector from 7 countries of Central America participate.

  • We engaged in partnerships with 3 export companies based in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua in order to document and learn from their inclusive business models and innovations.

  • Through the national platforms, we managed to develop and promote policies, legislations, strategies and national plans for the cocoa sector.

A new strategy for the cocoa secor in Central America

In December of 2021, the Ministers of Agriculture of Central America and the Dominican Republic approved the strategy for the region’s cocoa sector, which is aimed particularly at increasing youth participating and tackling climate change.

Rikolto and the Executive Secretariat of the Central American Agricultural Council (SECAC) coordinated the development of the strategy together with all stakeholders part of SICACAO.

Download your copy of the strategy
  • We co-developed an online tool to design smart climate cocoa agroforestry systems, with specific information on climate trends, appropriate agroforestry practices, and cost-benefit analyzes. This portal will facilitate collective learning about Climate Smart Cacao. partners are CIAT, WCF and Rikolto plus other players of both private and public sector across the region.

  • We promoted the implementation of 47 agroforestry systems in 4 countries with 4 partners (3 export companies and 1 local organisation).

  • Creation of the Central American and Dominican Republic Cocoa Integration Committee (SICACAO) where 7 countries of the region are represented (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panamá and Dominican Republic).

Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC/COSUDE)

Ninoska Hurtado
Ninoska Hurtado
Coordinadora del Proyecto Gestión de Conocimiento de la Cadena de Valor del Cacao en Centroamerica | Nicaragua