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CarbonDrawn Nicaragua

We will maximize the carbon-sequestering impact of Nicaragua's land by incentivizing female farmers to cultivate the soil and themselves.

Photo of Maya van der Meer
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

SymBio Organic

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The motto for our Food Systems Vision is "Regeneration through collaboration." Our team includes stakeholders currently involved with the food system we are focusing on in Nicaragua. We have also brought in new strategic partners in order to create our 2050 vision. And this is just the beginning.... *Main Team* SymBio - Sol Simple - Burke Agro - Sol Organica - Regen Network - Taking Root *Farmer Co-ops* PROCAFE, Sacaclí, COPOFRULA (Currently recruiting more cooperatives, especially for organic, fair-trade bananas.) *Small company* ARESA *Large company* El Granjero, Nuevo Carnic, RAMAC - *Small NGO* Prodesa, Ayuda en Acción, Amigos for Christ *Large NGO* Heifer Nicaragua, American-Nicaraguan Foundation (ANF), Fundación Padre Fabretto, Caritas, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) *Government* IPSA, INTA *Investment-based Organization* DevEquity *Media Outlet* Blue Pacific Studios *Other: Certification Body* Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC)

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Woodstock, NY

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Area of Nicaragua (RACCS) 27,407 km2 - North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Area of Nicaragua (RACCN) 32,159 k

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Though our story has many roots, the relationship to our place begins when Will Burke, our Food Systems Vision partner, was teaching in Nicaragua. Will was astonished by the amount of fruit laying on the ground and wasting away in a country with so much need. As time passed, he could not shake the images of decaying fruit and poverty.

Will wondered if there was a way to bring economic and educational opportunities to marginalized communities while simultaneously protecting and utilizing the country’s natural resources.

The question was complex; the answer was simple. In 2007, Sol Simple was founded:

“I envisioned starting a fruit company, but not just any fruit company. I wanted to provide education and training to farmers, operate the plant using renewable energy, and support communities by employing single mothers.” - Will (Founder & CEO of Sol Simple)

Sol Simple has proven to be much more than just a brand. They promote sustainability in all areas of their business from agricultural practices to processing; they hire and train people from marginal communities; and they partner with, invest in and buy fruit directly from smallholder farmers, providing livelihoods for female farmers in particular. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Nicaragua is the 2nd poorest country in Latin America after Haiti. The average education level is 6th grade. The largest city, Managua only has about 1.4M people and the next largest city only about 200,000. 

Spanish is spoken on the Pacific side while Nicaragua Creole English, Miskito and Spanish are spoken on the Caribbean side of the country. On the Pacific side, the people are mostly mestizo, ie a mix of Spanish and Amerindian. The Caribbean side has a mix of ethnicities, including descendants of slaves brought from Africa, Miskito Indians, and Mestizos. Increasingly Mestizo farmers from the Pacific side have invaded native lands in protected areas on the Caribbean side and have cleared old-growth forests in order to graze cattle or plant crops.

Nicaragua is an agricultural society. There is little industry in the country that is not agroindustry. Beans, rice, corn and sorghum are major crops, mostly for internal consumption. Many farmers are subsistence farmers. Coffee, sugar, beef, peanuts, tobacco, shrimp, lobster and other seafood represent a large portion of the country’s exports. Many people have fruit trees (mango, orange, lime, banana, avocado) in their yards. The country is promoting cacao as an up-and-coming export crop. There are a number of large African palm plantations for oil, as well as export banana plantations. Much arable land in Nicaragua is idle. Agricultural yields are generally far below international averages. 

Nicaragua has two seasons: hot and dry from November to April (referred to as Summer) and hot and rainy from May to October (referred to as Winter). Rain is extremely uncommon for the 6 months of Summer. In Winter, most days are sunny with a short downpour in the afternoon, except for a 2-4 week period in September or October with more steady rains. Temperatures range from 28C to 38C in the daytime and 18C to 30C at night. The North of the country is mountainous with elevations of around 1000m. Nicaragua has a string of active and inactive volcanoes running through it and has two large lakes, Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) and Xolotlan (Lake Managua). The Central American Dry Corridor starts in Nicaragua. The Bosawas protected area covers much of the North Caribbean and the Indio Maíz protected area covers much of the South Caribbean.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

There is little hope the Nicaraguan government headed by President Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary, will help farmers at all. When the people, backed by business leaders, rose up in protest when Oretege slashed social security as a cost-cutting measure, they were met with a harsh governmental crackdown. The resulting violence drew widespread condemnation from human rights groups, regional organizations, and foreign governments, including the United States. 

As if this wasn't enough of a challenge, the NGO Germanwatch ranks Nicaragua among the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. Current conditions in the Dry Corridor are causing crops to die and could lead to famine in the area.

"Because of climate change, the conditions for agricultural production in the Dry Corridor don’t exist anymore," Victor Campos, director of the Humboldt Center, says. "That creates a food crisis, and if there isn't another kind of income available for families, it leads to famine."

Blanca Landero Betarco, who comes from multi-generational farming family describes the predicament in stark terms: 

"I don't know how many more years I'll be able to stay living here on this land, in these conditions — whether I'm going to starve to death — because that's what this land might have in store for us: death."

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which works to reduce hunger and poverty in the world, points out that, “The frequency and intensity of the droughts and floods have been increasing in recent years as marked by ENOS, climate change, socio-economic vulnerability, and environmental degradation.”

People are leaving Nicaragua. More than 55,500 people have left Nicaragua for neighboring Costa Rica in the last year. Political upheaval may be the most immediate cause, but climate change is increasingly recognized by organizations like the United Nations as a factor driving Central American migration. Tania Guillen, a Nicaraguan researcher at the Climate Service Center Germany, explains that with small farmers losing crops, food insecurity in Nicaragua "could be a decisive factor to migrate to other countries in the region.”

The situation is predicted to get worse over time. Global circulation models all forecast that it will be hotter and precipitation will be increasingly unreliable by 2050. These gradual changes along with extreme weather events and rising sea levels will affect agricultural productivity, farm incomes and food security. A new World Bank Group reports, "Unless concerted climate and development action is taken now, the scale of climate migration will ramp up by 2050." The report estimates that 17 million Latin Americans could be forced to immigrate within their own countries when facing these scenarios over the next three decades in search of new livelihoods. Internal migration “Without the right planning and support, people migrating from rural areas into cities could be facing new and even more dangerous risks,” said the report’s team lead Kanta Kumari Rigaud. “We could see increased tensions and conflict as a result of pressure on scarce resources."

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

While the current situation in Nicaragua is becoming increasingly dire, it is also one of the best-positioned countries to respond to climate change. Mitigating global warming is possible through the wide-scale implementation of regenerative agriculture and agroforestry.

“A mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere,” says Dr. Rattan LAL, Ohio State Soil Scientist. 

Regenerative agricultural practices also make crops resilient to both floods and drought. This creates financial resilience in the face of climate change-related weather events. What's more, investors are gettings excited about a recent study just reported on by Forbes which found that "regenerative practices were 78% more profitable than conventional plots." This profitability is due in large part to demand in end markets.  

It is essential for vulnerable smallholder farmers, whose livelihoods will be most affected by climate change, to understand its likely impacts and develop strategies to adapt. Understanding the implications of these changes is also critically important to all stakeholders in the value chain. To ensure the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers and related rural industries, it is crucial to identify adaptation pathways for these production systems or identify opportunities for diversification into other high-value crops.

Since the Nicaraguan government will provide no incentive, we must be strategic, nimble and comprehensive in how we get farmers trained and paid. We will offer coffee and cocoa farmers the opportunity to diversify with fruit, providing them with an alternative source of income. Additionally, we will encourage efforts in agroforestry to support bio-diversity needed for healthy crops and provide further incentives to farmers who reforest idle land through a partnership with Taking Root in Nicaragua.

One of our partners in addressing the challenge of measuring regeneration is the Regen Network. Regen's platform allows, "anyone in the world access to open, scientifically valid information about the current state of our planet - be it a piece of farmland, a river, or an entire ecosystem - without having to rely on a centralized authority." They use satellite imagery and on-the-ground measures to track regeneration over time while allowing farmers to earn carbon credits.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The solution to preventing a climate-created agricultural catastrophe and mass human migration already exists in Nicaragua. It’s in the soil itself. What is needed is the vision, collaboration and leadership to re-generate the land while supporting its people.

We will prevent a humanitarian crisis from playing out in Nicaragua by developing and supercharging regenerative supply chains so that farmers will be able to cultivate their land in harmony with nature, sustaining themselves and their way of life. 

Through regenerative agriculture, Nicaragua will become a global leader in drawing down carbon and helping to mitigate the effects of climate change

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Tokya Dammond, president of SymBio, our lead applicant organization, understands how complex and difficult what his partner Will Burke is trying to achieve in Nicaragua. But he also knows that it is possible!

In the early 1990's, foreseeing the future plight of the agricultural industry, Tokya quit his job on Wall Street where he worked alongside Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and invested everything he had into organic agriculture in Poland, a then-emerging market, to develop organic food supply chains. 

For a nation emerging from 50-years of communist occupation, Tokya arrived from the future. He drove his car (that he had shipped over still bearing its New York license plates) all over the Polish countryside to visit farms. He was the only person to be seen working in cafes on a laptop. He even found ways to connect to the Internet in its infancy in order to forge communication pathways for Polish farmers. At a time that inflation was catastrophically high, Tokya was able to provide livelihoods to Polish family farmers while building on their traditional agricultural practices. Today, these organic farms and a new generation of farmers are thriving.

Through SymBio, Tokya was able to convert over 25,000 acres to organically farmed land. This created a model for many others to follow. Tokya has worked on many global supply chain projects and sees the potential in Nicaragua, the way he was able to see it in Poland.

Tokya chose to partner with Will on this Food Systems Vision because Will has proven his ability to have an impact while maintaining the highest ethical standards as a business with B Corp status. Sol Simple has also participated in the first Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) pilot project. Many brands in the US export market await this new certification.

Tokya knows we can achieve our Food Systems Vision based on his experience in Poland and current technological possibilities he didn't have then, such as blockchain to advance traceability. He believes that, if supported, we would achieve our regenerative goals in Nicaragua and would also be able to replicate it in different parts of the world. Thus, Tokya along with his Food Systems Vision (and life) partner Maya van der Meer, founded The CarbonDrawn Initiative (CDI) on January 1st, 2020. Tokya and Maya have already begun investing considerable time and energy creating the foundation for CDI. They have even launched the beta phase of a virtual network to support the mission. Stakeholders have already begun to use the collaborative workspace around regenerative supply chain projects, including this Food Systems Vision. 

Since we know there is currently no hope for governmental policy to provide solutions to the challenges Nicaragua faces, it is paramount that we assembled a powerful team of supply chain experts, scientists, NGOs, data management specialists, award-winning film and TV producers, business experts, and marketing strategists. CDI has made headway facilitating collaboration among powerful stakeholders who are ready to get to work on this project ASAP. Funding would go towards supporting CarbonDrawn Nicaragua as CDI's first pilot project. Through the connection to CDI and the global network being built, Nicaragua will be able to easily share strategies, successes and challenges across the network, creating a global ripple effect of impact, learning and transformation.

If our Food Systems Vision is supported, in 2050 we won’t see fruit rotting on the ground anymore while people suffer from malnutrition and poverty in Nicaragua. We will see people working their native land, building up their topsoil and profiting from it. We will see this resulting in sustained livelihoods and increased access to education. We will see women rising up for themselves, each other and their communities, ensuring a healthy environment for their children.

It is well-known that a healthy environment and human health are inextricably linked. The symbiotic relationship between soil and human microbiomes is a lesser know scientific frontier. In 2050, we will know more about how soil biodiversity relates to human digestion, assimilation and nutrient absorption. It will become increasingly more clear how fundamentally, biodiverse soils create healthier, more abundant, nutrient-dense and tastier foods. 

"If we improve our management of land to enhance the biodiversity in our soils, we'll improve human health," said Wall, professor in California State University's Department of Biology, research scientist in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory and director, School of Global Environmental Sustainability. 

Focusing on the cultivation of a healthy environment has proven to have other benefits Nicaraguans by 2050. Nicaragua has become the new destination for ecotourism thanks to its culture-preserving food systems and agroforestry achievements. This is boon to the economy on many levels.

When women thrive, communities thrive. Our focus on female farmers will have strategically supported entire communities in succeeding. We will see more and more women earning gainful employment and watching their children get an education. Blanca Landero Betarco no longer thinks the land she farms has "death" in store for her. Blanca has been able to remain in her country but has moved away from the Dry Corridor into the arable areas we support to be a Pitaya farmer. She and her family are thriving and healthy. Blanca's children, the next generation of farmers, carry on this important work as informed global citizens. The family has a new-found pride in their agricultural heritage because as environmental stewards, victorious over a global enemy, they are recognized by the rest of the world as climate heroes. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Instagram


Join the conversation:

Photo of Constanza Castano

Hi, Tokya Dammond . Thank you for publishing!

Please make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.

Here is the link to the pocket guide:

All the very best for the Prize!

Warm regards,


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