Cocoa has been grown in the Mesoamerica region for a thousand years or so albeit a ceremonial and sacred food stuff initially although it really started to take off in the colonial period where in 1632 they requested the importation of cacao beans from Peru due to the scarcity of the crop in the country as well as the neighbouring nations of Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica. There were governmental attempts to control the importation of cacao which actually led to a burgeoning increase in the level of cocoa smuggling.
During the period between 1970 and 200 or so the region was hit by disease and low international prices for cocoa which led many small-holders to move from the production of our beloved fruit to the more commercially attractive banana and livestock farming. But now with cocoa prices going through the roof more and more indigenous peoples and almost subsistence farmers are taking another look at cocoa production. But there’s also a lot going on with national and international organisations to increase the knowledge and skills of local growers, including Centro Agronomico Tropical de Investigacion y Ensenanza and the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service which is helping with analysis of the genetic diversity of local cacao, although there’s also the Cooperative of Agro-forestry Services and Cocoa Marketing (CACAONI-CA), the Association for the Diversification and Development of Communal Agriculture (ADDA C), and the National Union of Farmers and Cattle Raisers (UNAG).
Looking at a recent list of cocoa exports by country, Nicaragua is a lowly 24th in the list with just 1128 tonnes in the period 2007/8 with about 50% of the production in 2009 going to the Swiss company Chocolats Halba. And Ritter agreeing to buy 30 tons certified organic cocoa from the nature. I’ve also found that in 2009 the Nicaraguan Ministry of Industry, Trade and Development reported that they exported 73,113 tons on cocoa and cocoa products worth over $2.8m. That may be small change for many countries, but it certainly helps the local economy.
I’ve never been all that fond of Ritter Chocolate as it has always seemed a bit too commercial for my liking. But after reading their commitment to Nicaragua, I may actually have to give them another try.
It seems that much of the cocoa production in Nicaragua is based in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region around the Wasala area where the Cacaonica company (related to Ritter) are involved with 2,000 cocoa producers from 90 villages and is responsible for about 400 tons of cocoa per year and mainly harvest Criollo cocoa and the odd hybrid.