Energy in the Sustainable Chocolate Equation

When was the last time you indulged in a delicious, rich chocolate treat? Next time, we encourage you to check out the source of your dessert! Sustainable, high-quality cocoa takes an exciting journey from farm to table, and an essential part of this process is ensuring the quality of life for cocoa-producing families. In Nicaragua, many cocoa farmers face the daily challenge of reliable, accessible electricity because it’s difficult for rural communities to connect to the national grid. In fact, over 1,392,000 people in Nicaragua don’t have electricity service. These families use kerosene lanterns, candles, and batteries to meet their electricity needs, a costly and toxic solution.

Green Empowerment and local partner CACAONICA have helped 210 rural households (960 people) in northern Nicaragua install home solar systems since October 2021. Each system includes a 165 Watt solar panel, four light bulbs, a deep cycle battery, and an inverter to charge electronics. Participating families paid 50% of the system cost upfront and will pay back the balance with cacao sales through the cooperative. For families, the investment is already paying off, both in health benefits (because of reduced exposure to kerosene and candles, major contributors to respiratory illness) and through saving 15 – 20 USD per month on candles, batteries, and kerosene.

Training Local Technicians

“We now feel happy and safer because we have light in our home.” – Sr. Benediz Suarez Muñoz. The Suarez family went on to share that now incur fewer expenses and can always charge their cell phone, allowing them to call for help or in an emergency.

As the project expanded, six young men from participating families engaged in solar system training and earned installer and technician certifications from the system supplier. This allows them to perform basic repairs, such as changing fuses in the inverter. This means that the next generation has an established, income-generating role in the cooperative, and rural households have access to more immediate support.

“Thanks to this project, I achieved technical skills that I did not know, and now I can provide the service of installation, review, and maintenance of solar systems in my community. This generates additional income for my family. I feel very grateful, and thank you for supporting young people in getting ahead.”

– Rafael Ruiz García, Project Technician and Farmer
Left: Rafael Ruiz García, Farmer, Project Technician. Right: Six young men trained and certified as solar home system installer technicians.

Building Trust through Quality Programs

We started this project in 2021 with just 70 cacao farming families. As neighboring families and communities saw the success of the systems, the program spread. We are now in phase five of this project, and the program has grown to include more partner families of the cacao cooperative.

Our partner CACAONICA, reports a huge success. When Green Empowerment began a relationship with the CACAONICA cooperative, they had 295 associates of small cocoa producers. Awareness of the project generated interest from new cocoa-producing families who have recently joined, increasing the cooperative number of members to 412. We’re excited to continue our partnership with CACAONICA, supporting a healthy life and economic opportunity for more cocoa farmers. 

Next time you’re craving a chocolate treat, we encourage you to look for one that supports the health and well-being of both people and the planet. Leave a comment with your favorite sustainable chocolate brand!

“Thanks to the support of Meal a Day, women cocoa producers are benefited with solar home systems.” – Sra. Maura Roque Mendoza; Cacao producers; Project Beneficiary

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