Cacao Oro’s Plantation in Nicaragua Enters Production

Author Gifford Laube

Cocoa Production Technical Manager
Cacao Oro de Nicaragua
Photo by Cacao Oro

As we approach the end of the 21st century’s second decade, the world’s sweet tooth, continues to crave chocolate. But modern cocoa production requires more than just simply producing raw materials. The modern consumer demands more than just the inimitable, delicious flavor of chocolate. Consumers now want “Triple Bottom Line” sustainability (social, environmental, economic) as part of their chocolate-consumption experience, and successful producers must find ways to build supply chains that take these demands into account.

While WCF member company Cacao Oro de Nicaragua (Cacao Oro) has incorporated this need for demonstrable sustainability (utilizing a full agroforestry model on our 3,000-hectare plantation, which incorporates the requisite environmental, social, and governance parameters), the primary requirement for any agricultural operation is competitive productivity and yield. Reaching the productive stage quickly, and then sustaining competitive yields, remain central to Cacao Oro’s agronomic management goals.

For these two reasons, Cacao Oro’s management team has focused on:

  1. Traceability and transparency through certification.
  2. Varietal management and new technologies in propagation.
Agroforestry systems in Nicaragua Photo by Cacao Oro

Traceability and Transparency Along our Supply Chain

Founded in April 2014, Cacao Oro almost perfectly reflects this moment along the timeline of cocoa-growing history. New production must satisfy many criteria related to sustainability to meet the increasingly high expectations of the consuming public. Certification is not the only option; accredited confirmation of best practices in agriculture and corporate social responsibility is required for serious growers/producers. Along these lines, Cacao Oro is pleased to report that in late August 2018 we successfully completed our Year 1 audit and certification process for UTZ Certification.

As a private capital, investor-driven project, Cacao Oro submits to rigorous auditing and reporting throughout the year. John Warrington (President) and David Glossinger (Vice President – Investor Relations) create detailed reports, pertaining to both financial and overall project vision, mission, and direction. The Board of Directors, which includes industry leaders, provides vital feedback and direction, incorporated by the management team into the quarterly planning. Cacao Oro has found that, like steering a giant ship, keeping a project of this magnitude on track requires careful communication throughout the leadership hierarchy.

Varietal Management and “Technology Package” in Propagation, Planting, and Cultivation

During 2015, our first full year of planting, Cacao Oro also made a significant commitment to genetic resource management, making sure that we had both highly-productive cocoa varietals, as well as “preferred stock” varietals that established chocolate makers find enticing and desirable for their flavor and aroma traits. Cacao Oro purchased the genetic collection of famed Costa Rican cocoa farmer Hugo Hermelink for this very reason, as well as for its proven yield potential in climatic conditions almost identical to our own.

The other technological breakthrough central to the Cacao Oro project is the proprietary micrografting system developed by the Ecom/AgriTech team, and first applied in the Cacao Oro greenhouse/nursery. Using a technique previously developed for coffee propagation (apical top-graft at early-stage development) and adapted for cocoa, we have been able to drastically reduce the time needed to produce high-quality clones in the nursery, from six months to four months. Additionally, these plants require less pruning in their formation and enter production at an earlier age than typical cocoa trees (20-24 months), meaning the path from the investment stage to the production stage takes less time.

Looking Forward

August 2018 marked the first, small transitional step in Cacao Oro’s development, as planting of the 2,000 hectares of cacao was completed. While much work remains, our management team’s focus now shifts to processing and commercialization as the 2014 and 2015 plantings come into production. Good post-harvest processing practices to ensure quality, as well as the continued commitment to traceability – from field, to dried bean, to the client – drive the commercialization activities. Each coming year brings an exponential leap in volume as Cacao Oro builds towards its annual goal of 4,000 MT. Investment in fermentation and drying facilities and information technology will drive the team over the next 12 months. Happily, the initial audit and certification visits were met with success, and the team remains committed to incorporating these sustainability benchmarks throughout each additional phase of project development.

Micrografting cocoa plants Photo by Cacao Oro
Micrografted plants Photo by Cacao Oro
Micrografted cocoa propagation Photo by Cacao Oro