In the past, traditional agricultural products (coffee, cotton, bananas, meat, fish, shrimp, and lobster) have made up the majority of the exports. Last year, however, non-traditional exports (peanuts, sesame seeds, honeydew and cantaloupe melons, limes, onions, chili, baby corn, spices, flowers, ginger, dasheen, mangoes, okra, pitahaya, medicinal plants, tobacco, and cassava) surpassed traditional exports for the first time.
One of Nicaragua's advantages is that, because of its tropical climate, it can produce crops during the off-season when the Northern Hemisphere countries are in need of fresh fruits during the winter. The principle off- season crops (crops produced during Nicaragua's dry season which are watered by irrigation) are the following: melons, which are harvested between December and April in Pacific and central areas; sweet onions, which are produced in the center of the country where the soil is very fertile and low in sodium and yields low pungency onions. Watermelon, squash, baby corn, tabasco peppers, cucumber, broccoli, snowpea, spinach, strawberry, blackberry, basil, vanilla, cardamom, and garlic also fall into this category.
Tropical fruits grow extremely well and abundantly in Nicaragua's soils and they can be exported as either fresh fruits or frozen pulp. Some fruits may not be exported to the United States and Europe for health reasons, however, and others require expensive treatment and inspection. Mangos have recently experienced a great increase in demand within the world market. Mangos are very adaptable to the wide range of soils and climates of Nicaragua and, from February to May, they are exported to Europe and the US. Another good crop is the cocoa bean which has been cultivated here since pre-Columbian days and is known for its excellent aroma and flavor. Pitahaya, a recent addition to the world market, is increasingly sought after by international food industries for fruit juice, fruit bars and smoothies, dairy products and preserves as well as by cosmetic industries. Banana is a traditional export which accounts for a good percentage of Nicaragua's annual exports. And finally, lime, which can be harvested between November and December when the demand is high, tamarind, which can be legally exported to the US without an import permit and which degrades very slowly, bring up the rear. Other tropical fruits which are potential and current exports are pineapple, passion fruit, maracuya, avocado, mamey, papaya, macadamia, chirimoya, spinach, plantain, bread fruit, grapefruit, lychee, and rambutan.
Oil producing crops also have potential in Nicaragua, as Nicaraguan producers have discovered. Soybean and sesame seeds as well as peanuts are growing in popularity among growers who have found them to be adaptable to Nicaragua's climate and large portions of the available land area. Roots and tubers have seen a great increase in Nicaragua, especially ginger. Ginger is being exported directly and crops such as yucca, malanga, cassava, yams, batata, and sweet potatoes are up as well. Another potential non-traditional crop are simple flowers and plants. There is a large variety of plants which have medical uses and ornamental plants such as orchids, roses, and chrysanthemums grow plentifully in Nicaragua. During Valentine's Day, a dozen premium roses sell for about 15 dollars and for even less during the normal season.
As for forestry, Nicaragua is endowed with the most diversified forest in Central America, housing 65 commercially valuable species. The principle species with potential are pine, cedar, guanacaste, mahogany, and rosewood. There are modern laboratories available for analysis and many detailed reports have been compiled of the areas potential. However, there have been abuses of the harvest laws in the recent past, and the government has passed strict controls on the industry. In April 1998, the president announced that there would be no logging of mahogany, cedar, and pochote for the next five years as a result of the comptroller general's outraged response to the region's deforestation and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources' lack of action. The Nicaraguan government passed the plan of Forest Action in 1992 with the objectives of increasing forest production while guaranteeing the sustainability of the resource, increasing the supply of wood for national consumption and exportation, and conserving a source of wood for energy. Nicaragua has two large reserves that guarantee the preservation of natural reserves called Bosawas, on the border with Honduras, and Si-A-Paz which borders with Costa Rica. One of the most promising areas of investment in this sector is value-added processing plants.
Finally, but certainly not least, is Nicaragua's seafood industry. Having the largest continental shelf in Central America, it's no surprise that Nicaragua has great potential in this sector and that the potential has not been exploited. The industry has always concentrated on shrimp and lobster so that scale fish have been left largely untapped. And, in addition to the rich Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Lake Nicaragua has a large crop waiting to be harvested. On the Atlantic, snook accounts for more than half of the annual harvest with red snapper, shark, grouper, and catfish accounting for the rest. On the Pacific, red snapper accounts for more than two-thirds with shark, croaker, cabrilla, palometa, flounder, and tuna bringing up the rear.
Nicaraguan agriculture imports are also a potential area for investment, especially in the areas of wheat and rice and corn, tallow and oil, genetics, seeds, machinery and chemicals, and consumer products. The agricultural sector is likely to expand as a result of the economy and the government's renewed concentration on it, creating an even greater need for many supporting products. Nicaragua imported 75 million dollars worth of these items last year and the demand in the areas of chemicals, seeds, genetics, machinery, and consumer products can be expected to increase.