In my first month in Nicaragua, I have met with many political leaders, business executives, educators, and civil society groups. They have told me about Nicaragua’s challenges and opportunities for development. But I have been looking forward especially to being with this audience today and having the opportunity to share my thoughts and learn from you about one of the most significant sectors in Nicaragua. As you all know, nearly one-third of Nicaraguans are employed in agriculture, and nearly half live in rural areas. I believe I will only start to truly understand Nicaragua once I have had the chance to speak directly with Nicaraguan farmers and hear about the issues you face.
I’m proud to be from a farming family. We grow corn and raise livestock on our farm in Missouri, in the heartland of the United States. So I know that farming is more than a way of earning a living – it’s a way of life. It is steeped in tradition and family history. The wisdom that farmers have accumulated over that time and passed down from generation to generation has kept human beings alive and allowed us to flourish.
But these days, farming is a business. And like any business, farmers must innovate to survive. The practices that sustained their grandparents will not lift today’s small farmers out of poverty. You have to take calculated risks, explore new markets, and constantly seek to improve the way you produce and sell your products.
The United States is focused on helping Nicaraguan farmers compete by using 21st century techniques, inputs, and knowledge. We have invested more than $64 million in Nicaragua in the past five years to train farmers in animal and plant health, improve farming methods, support rural cooperatives, improve access to credit, and strengthen agricultural value chains.
These investments are paying off in Nicaragua with the results in the cacao industry being particularly exciting. The International Cocoa Organization recently designated Nicaragua as a producer of 100 percent “fine” cocoa, a distinction shared by only ten countries in the world. Luxury chocolatiers are now paying premium prices to Nicaraguan producers to bring their exceptional product to consumers in Europe and the United States. Our friends from Lutheran World Relief just returned from accompanying a group of Central American cacao farmers to a premium chocolate exposition in Paris, where Nicaragua was recognized with a Cocoa of Excellence award. The progress that cacao has made in Nicaragua is incredible. I am proud that the United States has assisted in the growth and development of this industry.
The United States continues to support cacao in innovative ways. I just came from a press conference that announced the launch of the Cacao Movil toolkit. This project, which is funded by the Department of State and implemented by Lutheran World Relief, puts the latest information about cultivation and marketing techniques directly into the hands of farmers with a collection of mobile-friendly guides. Cacao farmers throughout Nicaragua are using Cacao Movil to modernize their practices and earn more income for themselves and their families. In addition, USAID’s regional food security and sustainable agriculture project implemented by RUTA, is strengthening the cacao value chain in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Nicaragua, the project has assisted farmers and cooperatives to improve cacao production, increase value of secondary products, such as cocoa butter, and create linkages to regional and foreign markets. USAID programs are also training agroforestry students in cacao production and linking these students with private sector companies and cooperatives to create employment in the cacao industry. We thank Ritter Sport for partnering with USAID through a public private partnership to create a cacao specialization for agroforestry studies and encourage others follow suit.
I am proud of what we have accomplished together in Nicaragua, and I am proud to support the Nicaraguan farmers who feed this country through their hard work and innovation. I thank Lutheran World Relief, Catholic Relief Services, and Technoserve for organizing this forum today to celebrate all that the cacao industry in Nicaragua has accomplished, and for inviting me to join you. Best wishes for a successful event. Thank you.