One of the poorest members of Latin America, Nicaragua grows some amazing coffee. Located to the north of and just beside Costa Rica, its economy relies greatly on agriculture and 50% of Nicaragua’s exports come from agriculture sector.
Nicaragua has plenty of lakes and volcanoes on its land. The number of volcanoes in Nicaragua is 19, out of which 8 are active and so earthquakes are not uncommon. But the rich volcanic soil does provide favorable condition, along with other factors, for Arabica coffee to grow successfully in Nicaragua. Lucky in a way, that Arabica doesn’t grow everywhere, Nicaragua can and does produce the high in demand coffee variety.
Coffee used to contribute large sums to Nicaragua’s economy during late 1990s. It still does supporting over 45000 small farmer families and during coffee harvest season bringing additional employment to the people of Nicaragua. But civil wars, outside political interference and continuous natural disasters have been wreaking havoc over this world region for years now. Like other neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala, Nicaragua is also mending the damages from the past and is considered the second poorest in the western hemisphere (Haiti being the poorest).
Nicaragua has interesting geographical attributes. On its west coast stands Pacific Ocean and on east coast the Caribbean Sea. The natives are diversified among themselves too. Chortegas and nahuas inhabit the Pacific side while sumos, mískitos and ramas are located along the Caribbean.
Matagalpa and Jinotega are two major coffee producing regions of Nicaragua. Found curled up among the two mountain ranges Isabelia and Dariense, the two regions get the advantage of suitable altitude (600-1,500 meters above the sea level) and humid weather and produce coffee that gains its popularity for floral notes and bright acidity. North central and northeast regions grow most of the country’s coffee (about 83%) as the south Pacific mostly has low altitude regions. Mountains of the north regions provide perfect microclimates for coffee growing.
Most of the Nicaraguan coffee is organically grown and farming practices are environmental friendly. Coffee is shade grown under the natural plantation canopy. Many cooperatives are working within the region to re-set the coffee supply chain so that small holder farmers which make up about 95% of Nicaragua’s coffee economy, can be offered a bigger share for their efforts.
As typical as it is distant rural areas have little to no access to market. To export their coffee small farmers have no choice other than to sell to middle men and as many as 20 middlemen can be found involved in a coffee supply chain. Cooperatives are working to enable farmers to process and roast coffee they grow on their farms helping them earn four times higher for the same amount of coffee that they previously sold as green beans.
PAC (Pueblos en Acción Comunitaria or People in Community Action), Root Capital’s Coffee Farmer Resilience Initiative (CFRI) and Vega are to name a few. The Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) has been expanding the export opportunities for Nicaraguan farmers since 2006. This, mixed with the work of coffee cooperatives, is hoped to bring more opportunities for the Nicaraguan coffee to gain reputation in the specialty sector.