Coffee and cocoa farmers respond to climate change with agroforestry

The Climate Heroes project aims to improve farmers’ resilience to a changing climate by providing technical support, access to finance, and access to carbon markets. By applying agroforestry practices, small-scale coffee and cocoa farmers are improving their quality of life and the local environment.

Vidal Peralta, coffee producer in Nicaragua surveying his land

One of Solidaridad’s goals is to make sure that carbon markets and low-carbon agriculture work in favor of smallholders. This is the origin of the Climate Heroes Dream Fund, a 5-year initiative that facilitates incentive payments to producers who generate Carbon Removal Units (CRU) through agroforestry. 

Small-scale farmers cultivate a crop, such as coffee or cocoa, and plant trees at the same time to sequester carbon. The CRUs they generate can then be traded through the ACORN platform, a global carbon marketplace developed by Rabobank and Solidaridad, which guarantees low transaction costs and high carbon prices for farmers.

ACORN offers high quality CRUs using satellites and digital technology that detects the growth of each new tree planted on farms and the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere. Thanks to the use of this technology, farmers are able to receive at least 80% of the total value of every carbon sale. 

Smallholders are key to conservation

“Concern about climate change is visible at every level, and smallholders are bearing the brunt. They know that the climate has changed, that soil fertility and yields are decreasing. This is why a lot of farmers are abandoning their farms, and leaving behind important crops such as coffee.” Jossue Brenes, Solidaridad

As a result of this new reality, producers across Nicaragua are making changes to survive and maintain their diminished plots. 

“We have farmers who plant trees out of a strong conviction to protect the environment; others do it because it’s our policy as a cooperative to plant trees. But when you tell farmers that they could receive incentive payments, then they are much more willing.”

Jairo Francisco Rivera, COOMCAFE, a cooperative in nicaragua
“We’ve always farmed this way, but our yields are no longer the same. What’s happening? Climate change,” says Lorge Javier López, coffee producer.

The Climate Heroes project is available to farmers with 0.1 – 10 hectare coffee or cocoa farms where new shade trees can be planted, or farms with existing agroforestry systems that have been established in the last 5 years.

“We, the producers, are aware of the urgency to preserve the environment. We are aware that beautiful sunsets like this, listening to the birds in the background, can only be heard where there are trees, where there is biodiversity,” said Lorge Javier López, coffee producer.

A pilot project to reward farmer investments in climate-smart practices

At Solidaridad we seek to create sustainable and resilient business models that can be scaled. The Climate Heroes initiative is also being implemented in Uganda, Kenya and Colombia, with a target of reaching 25,000 producers in each country. Solidaridad first began the programme in Nicaragua with a pilot project implemented by local partners.

The partnership with Fundación Aldea in Nicaragua enables their member farmers to benefit more from coffee and agroforestry systems.

The pilot replicates successful Solidaridad projects that provided the proof of concept for making carbon markets work for small farmers. Our partner in Nicaragua, Aldea Global, is increasing these benefits to their members. To date 2,700 Nicaraguan smallholders have signed up to the ACORN platform and have sold 31,000 tonnes of carbon so far. 

“This year [2023] we plan to reach 10,000 and over the next 3 years, 25,000,” said Jossue Brenes of Solidaridad

Digital solutions to increase resilience

Solidaridad is committed to digital solutions that provide technical assistance to farmers at scale, as well as the more efficient monitoring of agricultural value chains. In the Climate Heroes project, we utilize digital apps that are used by producers themselves and technicians from extension teams. Some apps are educational, such as the Carbon Farming Academy, others allow for farm monitoring and virtual technical assistance, and others are used to record data.

Digital tools are a way to significantly scale our climate solutions and to engage more actors across the value chain.

Apps, like Farm Diary, allow farmers to keep records of their farming activities, monitor the implementation of good agricultural practices, and guarantee that their produce is traceable. Farmers benefit by having a record of their activities, which helps them make better decisions, and supports certification processes.

Working together to make sustainability the norm

Solidaridad develops global programmes and implements them in Nicaragua through local partners, such as Aldea Global, and other producer organizations. These organizations are aligned with Solidaridad’s goal of promoting the use of technology, technical assistance and training through community networks. This promotes resilience, supports climate change adaptation and mitigation, and protects and conserves natural resources.

“The alliances that are part of this initiative will allow us to have much more robust and resilient agroforestry systems. In addition, producers will have higher income and more trees will survive.” says María Durán of Solidaridad.