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How Agroforestry is Rebuilding the Health & Wealth of Coffee Farmers in Nicaragua, One Cluster at a Time

Powerhouse players ECOM, CIRAD, The Moringa Fund and NicaFrance join forces to drive sustainable agriculture

Agroforestry is crucial to bolstering the climate agenda. When a tree interacts with other components of agriculture, it becomes a lifeline capable of providing fuel, shelter, shade, food or fodder for livestock.

“It allows you to preserve the soil, to manage climate change and eventually in the medium to long-term, have a supplementary income for the producers,” said Philippe Courtel, Global Nursery Manager for the ECOM Group. “[This] diversification also allows producers to weather coffee crises when the price fluctuates.”

Since 2003, ECOM and CIRAD have collaborated in developing new rust-resistant coffee varieties that have become key to agroforestry systems. The partnership´s coffee plant varieties such as “Marsellesa” a Sarchimor pure line and F1 clone hybrids “Mundo Maya”, as well as F1 hybrid from seed “Starmaya” have proven strong abilities for agroforestry.

“ECOM-CIRAD is one of the few to develop these inclusive models,” said Philippe Courtel. “With the hybrids, the clusters and the tracking, we were able to increase the productivity while maintaining — and even improving — the quality of the coffee.”


The pilot agroforestry system convened a powerhouse of players, including The Moringa Fund, which financially supports sustainable, large-scale agroforestry projects with high environmental and social impacts, and Cafetalera NicaFrance, a Nicaraguan agroforestry company that owns La Cumplida, a coffee farm with 44 per cent of its plantations under tree shade.

The goal of The Moringa Fund was to share production techniques with the surrounding farms that had endured significant losses due to coffee leaf rust. This outgrower program would also involve the rehabilitation of 2,000 hectares of land with the ECOM-CIRAD developed varieties.

The project implements a five-year renovation program for each outgrower farm. To date, the coffee plantations have sown 435 hectares of forest plantations. In addition to agricultural practices support from SMS (ECOM Sustainability teams), farms gain a supplementary income by producing mahogany, which is in high demand from furniture manufacturers.

In 2016, the Nespresso capsule “Nicaragua” was born. And the coffee production of the Moringa project has been sold for two years with great success.

While coffee and cacao trials have proven fruitful, this cluster has huge potential outside of these industries. Clients outside of the coffee industry have approached Philippe about how to integrate agroforestry into their businesses. They recognize the benefits in this ecosystem that promotes biodiversity above and below the ground.

Philippe envisions more financing for farmers that is contingent on carbon measurements and the maintenance of trees. “[I see] the evolution of more technical models that are possibly related to carbon mitigating projects…in order to not only make coffee production resilient but to preserve biological corridors and maintain the local flora.”

Frédéric Georget, CIRAD Researcher and ECOM Group Technical Advisor, agrees that the agroforestry business-driven model, like “The Moringa Project” in Nicaragua and is the way forward. “Because of climate change, we need to develop more resilient agricultural systems and more virtuous agricultural business models. “The Moringa Project” is a model that we [want] to promote and replicate worldwide.”

Growing coffee in full sun is finished. The soil is depleted and climate change is very strong, so we have to return to techniques that are ancestral — and [still] innovative…to continue to produce coffee.

Philippe Courtel, Global Nursery Plant Manager, ECOM