Cocoa has been an important part of Mesoamerican life for more than a thousand years. It began as a sacred, ceremonial food until the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans. From that time to today cocoa has been a booming commodity locally and more importantly, in the worldwide marketplace. (Somarriba, 2009) However, Nicaragua struggles to capture a big portion of the international market, although cocoa from that region is generally accepted as very high quality. In the late 1970’s farmers struggled with both crop disease and lower market prices.
The outcome was a massive replacement by farmers from cocoa to bananas, which were believed to be more profitable. The effect was a decrease in cocoa bean production, which has remained relatively low until recently. Today cocoa is frequently cultivated by indigenous peoples and peasant farmers. Many Mesoamerican countries use the cocoa farms as a key land use effort to reducing poverty. (Somarriba, 2009) However, Nicaragua is beginning to turn their focus on better production methods, and more land specifically designated to the production of cocoa.
Experts have estimated that only 6400 hectares are farmed each year in the cultivation of cocoa. That number roughly represents about one thousand cubic tons per year in cocoa production. (Navarrete, 2005) In addition to this, most farmers are small scale generational farmers, passing along traditions through the years. However, it has also been estimated that in comparison to the 6400 hectares that are farmed each year, a possible 350,000 hectares are suitable for cocoa production. (Navarretes, 2005)
This exciting prospect is further fueled by the high demand for quality cocoa by international buyers such as Germany, The Netherlands, and the USA. (Dand, 2009) Although Nicaraguan cocoa is known for its very desirable characteristics and therefore good market prices, the area struggles with low production. The two biggest contributors to such minimal output are both poor agricultural management and technology, and plant-diseases. (Navarretes, 2005) Cultivating cocoa is a relatively easy crop. Many farmers like the lack of costly equipment or chemicals that would eat up profits. However, cocoa is very labor intensive.
One of the many problems facing Nicaraguan farmers is learning how to deal with these issues on a steady basis to increase crop production. Firstly, soil preparation and plot placement is important. Cocoa needs well drained soil and plenty of water, humidity and sunshine. Often the small considerations like weeding and cutting down excessive shade trees that steal soil nutrients and sunlight are neglected and cause poor crops, although they are fairly easy problems to remedy. . (Navarretes, 2005)Another easy remedy that is often overlooked is that of dead or diseased pod and limb removal.
Neglecting such seemingly simple tasks have had disastrous effects on whole cocoa crops. The diseased or dead pods and limbs quickly become diseased and spread rapidly throughout the crop. Adding to these mounting problems, farmers try to save crops with chemicals, but misuse and poor techniques result in killing the crops anyway. One of the most deadly diseases that cocoa farms are susceptible to is the Monilia virus. This devastating virus acts like a cancer and is very easily spread. In the late 1980’s the Monilia virus was responsible for crop failures in most of Mesoamerica. (Lok, p.
251) Management practices were introduced to help educate farmers on easy methods to save crops. These included removing infected fruit, pruning and weed control. One of the biggest problems remaining today that stands as a great hindrance to the desired cocoa production is simply that many of these farmers are ill-educated on farming techniques, and don’t know how to identify or resolve any of these fairly simple problems. However, NGO’s and extensionist groups have tried to come in and remedy the problems. Extensionists focused mainly on farming practices and taught farmers how to identify and resolve problems.
Also, they spent time educating farmers on methods for stimulating production, site choices and record keeping. Several problems were faced in all of these areas. First of all, one method which involves opening up the crown of the tree for longer term production must be carefully balanced by how much water is near the tree, humidity being an important factor in healthy cocoa trees. In one study after education the farmer on proper techniques, the farmer didn’t relate the balance of humidity and sunshine, and lost the entire crop to dehydration.
This proved to encourage distrust in the farmers of the extensionists who were there to help leading to the general consensus by the farmers that they should continue to stick to their own methods. (Lok, p. 255) As one farmer expressed his feelings on the matter, “I was told to establish my plot here, because it was the best place according to the extensionists, but I regret having done so. Next time I will establish my plot far from the river on the slope. This will give me less work, while still producing an acceptable amount of cocoa. ”(Lok, p. 255)
In addition to differences with training techniques, resistance by farmers was also had in relaying the importance of cutting down other trees that inhibit good cocoa crop production. Part of the problem lies in the simple fact that farmers use many of the trees for other necessary uses. For example, many of the shade trees are used for firewood and fruit and are seen by the farmers as being indispensable. Moreover, when trying to establish a basis for recording yield production, extensionists found that farmers would hesitate to give the correct amount.
Farmers insecure living circumstances, murder, theft and kidnapping, as well as debts needing to be repaid to the NGO’s all play their part in the farmer’s inconsistencies and reluctance to report accurately. Unfortunately these problems only add to the difficulties being faced in trying to increase production. (Lok, p. 255) With the aid of extensionists also came the helpful tools that the NGO’s had to offer. Because most cocoa was initially sold to middle men, farmers got low prices for their crops, thus ensuring the cycle of low production.
With help from NGO’s cocoa prices went up which opened opportunities for funding for better methods. The main problem faced in this are was mostly one that often strikes countries struggling with economic development. One government leader in attempting to address this problem of squandering increased income bluntly stated, “Brother workers and peasants, begging your pardon, but you will have to get drunk less, and dedicate the money to your family. ” (Fagen, 1986) Its second largest task of providing ways to market its product has been aided both internally and externally.
With new focus on commercialization and export procedures change is inevitable. Just as in the case with farming techniques, many of the issues that are hindering a large scale export are easily resolved. For instance, one of the major obstacles in the commercial cycle is simply that the roads are in such bad condition make travel impassable. (Dand, 1997) With the addition of government projects and government backing the potential for success is high. In addition, Nicaraguan commercialization of cocoa is focusing on the utilization of the CAFTA organization to help increase productivity.
(Dilger, 2005) Following CAFTA encouragement, Nicaragua would focus its commercialization with the United States, who “buys 25% of the world production”. With this strengthened focus CAFTA will also push cocoa as a free market product, trying to lift restrictions and increase sales. (Dilger, 2005) Interestingly, CAFTA is also aware of the traditional cocoa cultivation practices and is urging farmers to try mew methods. (Dilger, 2005) Regardless of the many obstacles, the national goal of Nicaragua to increase production of one of its finest exports remains strong.
Nicaragua is aware of its problems of low production, lack of credit, persistent Monilia, and pricing wars. (Dilger, 2005) However, with Nicaragua’s high quality cocoa and the accompanying international demands, Nicaragua could easily compete in the international cocoa trade. The potential for growth is strong, as is the determination of Nicaragua. References Dand, R. (1997). The International Cocoa Trade. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=114030771 Dilger, Robert. Kopsell, Edgar.
(August 2005) Estrategias publicas-privadas en el sector Cacoa en Nicaragua y Acuerdos regionales de comercio libre. Fagen, R. R. (1986, November). The Politics of Transition. Monthly Review, 38, 1+. Retrieved March 26, 2009, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5002128448 Lok, Rossana. (1998) Traditional Cocoa Agroforesrty Systems in Wasala, Nicaragua. Navarrete, Ignacio Thelma Gaitan. (2005). Cadena del Cultivo Cacao. Somarriba, Eduardo. Sustainable Cocoa Production in Mesoamerica. www. worldcocoafoundation. org. Retrieved March 26, 2009