Honduran Cacao Farmers Build a Future

By Heifer International

February 21, 2023

Neydi Guzmán grew up in the mountains of northeastern Honduras, where she still lives with her family. Despite living in one of the world’s poorest countries, her family has worked hard to make a living, educate their children and continue their way of life in Olancho, the largest department in the country.

Honduras is a challenging place to live. The country has a history of crime, corruption and political upheaval that has prevented many families like the Guzmáns from living peacefully in their ancestral homes. As a result of its history, the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic effects of hurricanes Eta and Iota, nearly half of all Hondurans live below the poverty line, according to a study conducted by the World Bank.

A young woman and a man standing in front of a truck of cacao plants they grow in their farm.
Neydi Guzmán and her father, Jose Guzmán, stand in front of a truck of cacao plants they grow in Nueva Esperanza, Olancho, Honduras. Photo by Phillip Davis/Heifer International.

Food insecurity has been persistently high in the last few years. The same World Bank study found that in 2019 the most vulnerable Hondurans spent almost half of their income on food.

The Guzmáns are working together to make a difference for their own family and for their community, and they’ve joined with Heifer to increase the impact of their efforts. Neydi’s determination has meant that her family has access to programs and support they would not have otherwise acquired.

A naturally shy but bright student, Neydi studied agriculture and livestock management after finishing high school and spent two further years studying organic agriculture. During that time she worked for a nonprofit organization that encouraged cacao production as an alternative to coffee.

Her experience promoting cacao at her previous job supported her application with Heifer.

Stronger Plants, Stronger Farms

The Guzmáns were one of the first 1,000 families in the region to grow more cacao as part of the Chocolate4All project, which Heifer supported from 2019 to 2022. Neydi’s brother, Esmelin, was also trained by the project and plays an important role on the family’s farm.

Because of their hard work and community spirit, the Guzmáns were selected by Heifer technicians to run a nursery in the community of Nueva Esperanza in Dulce Nombre de Culmí municipality in the Olancho department.

Thanks to the generous support of partners and Friends of Heifer®, Heifer provided 40,000 plants to start the nursery sourced from eight new varieties of cacao plants that are hardier and easier to grow. The new trees support 22 project families who received 600 plants each as part of the collaboration.

A young woman sitting beside her daughter, while holding a cacao plant in her hand.
Neydi Guzmán and her daughter, Esli, holding a cacao pod from their nursery. Photo by Phillip Davis/ Heifer International.

These families have received training on plant health and management, including lessons on grafting which can help older disease-prone plants continue producing fruit, enabling cacao farmers to continue to earn an income while the younger trees are still maturing.  

“That was the opportunity. Intelligent farmers took advantage of Heifer knowledge,” said Neydi’s father José, the patriarch of the Guzmán clan.

“We see many producers benefited because they did not have to buy grafted plants,” he said.  

Before Heifer invested in the new varieties of cacao, the Guzmáns and their neighbors made a living from traditional varieties of cacao that were less productive, less reliable and more susceptible to disease.

Before Heifer, Neydi estimates the family received about 12,000 to 18,000 lempiras, or $487 to $731, from the cacao crop annually and 42,000 lempiras, about $1,707, for the coffee crop. Occasional sales of bulls earned them about 7,000 lempiras, or roughly $284, a year.

Because the plants Heifer gave them are still young, the Guzmáns income has yet to increase, but they’re looking forward to a bright future. There have been other benefits. In addition to supplying new varieties of seeds and saplings, setting up nurseries, and training participants about diseases, Heifer is supporting women as they organize into self-help groups so that they can transform cacao into chocolates and other products, and earn an even bigger income. About a third of the farmers in this project are women.

Sweet Success

A young woman in a white attire pouring hot chocolate in a cup.
Neydi pouring a cup of hot chocolate made from her cacao harvest. Photo by Phillip Davis/ Heifer International.

After receiving Heifer-supported business training and a small gasoline-powered grinder, Neydi has worked alongside her self-help group to make chocolates and gelatin, adding value to this precious commodity. About 70% to 80% of what is not processed is sold as raw material to Halba, a local cacao company, through a relationship Heifer helped establish.

It's a challenging process, but they learn as they go.

“It was very difficult before; now it’s easier because we have the equipment,” she said.

With the grinder, a process that used to take more than four hours now takes just one hour or less. They sell the chocolates for 100 lempiras, about $4, a pound, the same price they sold them for before. Neydi estimates she earns about 2,000 lempiras, or $81, monthly from chocolate sales.

Thanks to her Heifer training, she can keep track of her profit, record sales and production costs, and document other important financial information to help her business grow.

Neydi’s little daughter Esli, who is six, is a fan of her mother’s new business venture.

“She likes everything [made from cacao] since she started to eat,” said Neydi.