Low-hanging fruit just got lower

To many young men and women in Nicaragua, there does not seem to be any way out of their current plight. However, youth organisations are nurturing hope and a promising outlook for the future.

22-year old Erling Aquilar looks across his field with satisfaction: the chayote, which is a popular vegetable, is tied up on wire netting. The first fruit is dangling from the strong shoots, and the signs are that the harvest will be good. During harvest time, sales of this tasty produce, which is similar to a pumpkin, will bring in around 400 francs a month, which is about four times the statutory minimum wage.

A third of Nicaraguans are aged between 15 and 30. Very few young men and women manage to earn enough to keep themselves. In rural areas in particular, many of them scrape their way through the compulsory school years and then pour out onto a stagnant labour market with barely any prospect of finding work. Consequently, they find themselves Compelled to take badly paid casual work in the informal sector to keep their heads above water or to emigrate to neighbouring Costa Rica and try their luck on the ‘black’ labour market. Anyone who manages to get enough dollars together to go to the US to seek his fortune is often fleeced by criminal traffickers during the perilous journey. Their hopes are dashed along the way and, in worst-case scenarios, some even lose their lives.

Unsecured loan

Erling Aquilar has better prospects. As a member of the youth cooperative ‘Esperanza’ (Hope), he was able to borrow CHF 700, even though he did not have any collateral. He invested the money in a small plot on his parents’ farm and bought equipment including wire mesh and wooden posts to build a pergolalike framework for growing the hanging plants.

In addition to loans, the Jucuapa-based cooperative offers advice to 125 young people on how to implement their business ideas and helps them if they need a grant for technical training or to study. The cooperative organizes regular further training workshops on topics of particular interest to the members such as agroecology growing methods, cultivating seeds, civil rights, gender equality or sexual health.

Interests successfully represented

The cooperative also supports the young people in marketing their produce. If they grow beans, the ultimate staple foodstuff in Nicaragua, the cooperative organises the storage and marketing of the harvest. This enables the young people to increase their income. However, the organisation also represents their interests on matters of policy with the authorities and ministries. As a result, people from Erling Aquilar’s village can also attend secondary school.

All told, ‘Esperanza’ offers young people like Erling Aquilar a real opportunity to realise their business ideas and to create opportunities for themselves. Another good thing is that Erling is not faced with having to invest in something which lies away ahead in the future, but can already see the fruits of his labours.



  • Project code: NC 2/14/12
  • Project duration: 24 months
  • Project costs:  Fr. 54‘936.-
  • Beneficiaries: 225 youth and young adults