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The inspiring rise of women leaders in Nicaragua's cacao communities

28 March 2024 UNIDO


In the lush landscapes of Nicaragua, the stories of two remarkable women unfold against the canvas of cacao cultivation, each making a lasting impact on their communities.

Rosibel Benavidez, a woman of 37, alongside her husband, Daniel Rodríguez, tends to the 'Blessing of God' farm in El Porvenir, Siuna. The farm's name reflects the couple's gratitude for the abundance that emerges from the earth they nurture. Over the past eight years, Rosibel's life has undergone a significant transformation – a shift from a quiet supporter of her husband's agricultural pursuits to a central figure in cacao production, community leadership, and member of the COPESIUNA cooperative's board, a space traditionally dominated by men.

Rosibel's journey into the cooperative fold, however, was no walk in the park. The mother of five, her children ranging from 21 to 5 years old, navigates a complex dance of household chores and children's schooling, all while balancing a rigorous schedule of meetings and activities essential to her role in the cooperative. Rosibel, once remembered as a quiet presence, has evolved into a leader within the eight cacao cooperatives supported by UNIDO’s PROCACAO and NICACAO projects. The cooperative boards have seen a notable surge in women, including Rosibel, occupying management positions and steering the course with strategic plans.

NICACAO Rosibel 2

Esmelda Salmeron, a determined and distinguished 55-year-old producer from the Pimienta Community in Siuna. In 2017, her life took a decisive turn. Until then, Esmelda, a single mother of three, labored in the fields, toiling in the planting and harvesting of rice, corn, and beans for her community. Fast forward to today, and Esmelda stands tall as a successful cacao producer, owning a polyculture plot that yields over 15 quintals of dried cacao beans per manzana per year. Her monthly income, exceeding C$15,000 cordobas (U$ 405), is a testament to her tenacity and leadership, all channeled through the COPESIUNA cooperative.

In 2017 Esmelda joined Phase I of the PROCACAO project, marking her introduction to cacao clones, a significant move in a time when most cacao producers were unfamiliar with the concept. Transitioning from a hybrid to a polyclonal plot, Esmelda achieved remarkable success, thanks to the support of the COPESIUNA cooperative and the PROCACAO project.

Esmelda's journey, showcases the significance of transitioning to polyclonal plots in cacao production. The evolution, from hybrid to polyclonal, dramatically improved tree resistance, cacao quality, and productivity. Esmelda is also the leader of the "Los Mensajeros" Community Group, where she shares her achievements and the benefits derived from the cooperative, PROCACAO, and now NICACAO.


As the stories of Rosibel and Esmelda converge in the common thread of community cooperation, their influence radiates to the people around them. Rosibel's children, now actively engaged in cacao cultivation, follow the footsteps of their mother, who has become a source of inspiration. In Esmelda's realm, her three children, aged 34, 28, and 26, have embraced cacao cultivation on their plots, expanding the Salmeron family's presence in the world of cacao.

Their collective journey, seamlessly weaving through the landscape of UNIDO’s PROCACAO and NICACAO projects, has left an enduring impact on Nicaragua's cacao cultivation. These stories serve as narratives of resilience, adaptability, and the community-driven initiatives, etching a vibrant chapter in the rich tapestry of Nicaraguan agriculture.


PROCACAO II was a UNIDO project funded by Switzerland.

NICACAO is a UNIDO project funded by the European Union.