Yamileth: a young woman capable of revitalising cocoa farming in Nicaragua

Yamileth: a young woman capable of revitalising cocoa farming in Nicaragua

in News
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Judith Vanegas
Judith Vanegas
Consultora de comunicación del Proyecto Gestión de Conocimiento de la cadena de valor del cacao en Centroamérica

Tenacity and resilience are words that describe Yamileth Torrez. At the age of 27, she is a survivor of Covid-19, the shocks of two hurricanes and losses to her income from cocoa production due to the effects of climate variability.

She and her family produce cocoa in the municipality of Rancho Grande, Matagalpa, 211 kilometres from Nicaragua's capital. Although she studied agronomy, "I only knew the generalities," she says. This changed when she was offered a job as a technician in the cocoa and coffee farmers' organisation "Rios de Agua Viva" located in the same community.

At the cooperative, she started as an internal inspector, gathering information from cocoa producers.

"There I learned in-depth about cocoa, the different varieties, their genetics, propagation and how to establish an AFS system, and I returned with the dream of carrying it out in the field, in the plots and sharing my new knowledge with the rest of the partners and the community," says the young woman.

It was in 2019 that Rikolto and the cooperative selected Yamileth participate in a diploma course on cocoa production under Agroforestry Systems (SAF) in Honduras, with funding from the Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt Group (through its Collibri Foundation).

Yamileth took up the challenge and is currently rehabilitating a plot (1.4 hectares) of cocoa from seed with low productivity to an Agroforestry System (SAF). Her cocoa plot "Agua Fresca", named after a creek (small river) of the same name, is improving every day. Along with her cocoa, she is growing Musaceae and timber trees such as cedar.

In agroforestry systems, cocoa is combined in the same production unit, as the main crop, and in association with timber, fruit and moss trees, among others.

Adversities do not stop, but neither does the desire to move forward

On 4 November 2020, hurricane Eta, a category 4 hurricane with winds of 150 mph, made landfall in Nicaragua, causing landslides and flooding as it moved towards Honduras and northeastern Guatemala. Then came Iota, the most powerful hurricane of the season (reaching category 5 and up to 160 km/h), which hit the three countries again when they were just trying to recover from the first one.

The hurricanes affected 50% of Yamileth's nursery, which was damaged by the excess water. She continued working. She is currently implementing cocoa grafting with highly productive plants and is adding clones, ICS 95 and TCH565, which she has obtained from the plot that the cooperative is establishing with the German chocolate company Ritter Sport.

The young producer works in organic processes, does not apply chemicals, and only adds organic fertilisers and enriched biofertilisers. She indicates that they have a biodigester on the farm, from where they extract the liquid fertilisers that they are applying directly to the plants.

In Rancho Grande, most of the farmers only have cocoa by seed, old plantations. The cooperative conducted a survey of 120 members and found that productivity is very low, from 9 to 10 ears per plant in 50% of producers.

"With my work in the cooperative, I provide technical assistance and support in the organisation of field schools with producers. We talk and go directly to the bean to change old cocoa that is low in productivity for materials that can be found in the region, and obtain it from the cooperative or from another source, which can help economically in production," adds the young woman.

The challenges sum up, and so do the triumphs.

Yamileth continues to work towards her goals. She says she is very happy and proud that from 11 May to 29 June this year she is studying for a scholarship in the "Virtual Diploma in Integrated Cocoa Management", offered by the Centre for Training, Innovation and Production Popayán Priva of Guatemala.

She and 15 other young people from the eight countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic, the SICA region, were granted 100% scholarships by the Knowledge Management of the Central American Cocoa Value Chain Project implemented by Rikolto with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC).

"For me, it is an opportunity to reach new goals, to continue growing, to deepen my knowledge in the cocoa sector to take it to the field as a producer and to be able to teach it to the cooperative's producers in technical assistance," says the young woman.

Yamileth suffered from Covid-19 in April this year, and being in very poor health and facing death only reaffirmed her commitment to life and a better world.

She is moving forward with the work of grafting cocoa branches and reiterates that she wants to motivate other young people to get involved in cocoa under SAF. She says she is very confident and empowered that it generates economic income, is environmentally friendly, conserves the flora and fauna, and is a resilient crop in the face of climate change.

"Rikolto's three work strategies have allowed the young cocoa producer to acquire knowledge that she continues to validate and replicate in her community and the cooperative," says Jorge Flores, Rikolto's youth project coordinator.

“Empowering farmers’ organisations to become strong business partners and implement sustainable practices includes increasing the participation of young people like Yamileth and giving them the tools to implement changes in the cooperative and in their communities” says Jorge.

The professionalisation of the organisation “Rios de Agua Viva” is one of these strategies. In Rikolto, that includes the participation of young people in the governance of the farmers' organisation, connecting the organisation with more actors like the supermarket chain Colruyt from Belgium, which allowed Yamileth to learn more about cocoa production sustainably and continues to learn lessons now through the learning and knowledge management platform for cocoa production at the Central American level.

Get to know the impressions of the young cocoa farmers who have participated in the last course on cocoa production under agroforestry systems.