Building Youth Livelihoods in Nicaragua

Yasmir (14) works on the family coffee farm in the mornings and goes to middle school in the afternoons. He considers himself lucky because, unlike many kids his age, he can still go to school.

By Rosemary Trent

Every young person imagines what their future will look like and dreams of what they would like to become. For those who live in poverty, the surest path to a brighter future is an education, but in coffee producing communities in Nicaragua, many young people are forced to drop out of school to help their families make ends meet. Absent an education, it’s very difficult for them to transcend their circumstances.

Save the Children, a global humanitarian organization, is working in partnership with Student’s Rebuild, a collaborative program of the Bezos Family Foundation, and other partners to implement youth livelihoods and life skills projects in 47 coffee-producing communities in the departments of Matagalpa and Jinotega in Nicaragua.

As is the case in many coffee-producing countries, climate change, globalization and declining commodity prices are making it increasingly difficult for micro and small-scale coffee producers to feed their families, let alone educate their children. Most youth in the communities served by the project have only completed 6th grade and spend their days working on their families’ coffee plots. Even when they are not working, they typically can’t access secondary education because of distance – most secondary schools are in the municipal capital – and the high costs of transport, room and board.

The chances of these children realizing their dreams of a better life are slim. Nevertheless, these young people—like 16-year-old Deivin, a project participant—still have dreams, and want to work hard to make them happen. “I want to finish high school and study to be an agricultural technician. If I learn more, I can help other people improve their coffee production,” he says.

Save the Children is helping Deiven, and other young people like him, through the Skills to Succeed for Young Entrepreneurs project, by strengthening their basic business skills and introducing them to entrepreneurial activities that can provide additional sources of income, such as beekeeping for honey production or raising egg-laying chickens to complement their income from coffee. This is critical especially during the months when there is no coffee production, limiting income and putting families at risk of seasonal hunger.

The project empowers youth to take ownership of their livelihoods and make informed decisions for their futures by training them on employability skills, personal financial literacy and livelihood planning, in addition to supports for new business ventures, such as access to credit and start up inputs. The goal of the project is to help young people learn how to manage coffee farming as a business and how to develop sustainable livelihoods around it.

Project participant, Berling, 21, explains:  “Usually we sow the land the way our parents tell us, the same way their parents did it. We don’t account for how much we invest and how much we make, so we do not have a good sense of whether or not what we are doing is good business. My expectation is to add value to our coffee production.”

Norvin, age 23, elaborates, “We now know how to analyze whether or not what we are doing gives us profits, whether or not our farm is a good business. We’re also learning how to get loans, how to handle the loans, and how to start saving.”

“At home, there’s a little bit of income from coffee because it’s harvesting season, so we live off that,” says 13-year-old Candida, who, thanks to the training and support she received from Save the Children, has been able to procure hens and now runs an egg business with another young woman. “But, in the ‘quiet time’—April to June, when there is no coffee picking – my brothers must look for other work.” Candida’s egg-laying hen initiative has 50 hens. The micro-business fosters collective participation and teamwork—another goal of the project.

“It’s been really interesting,” says 22-year-old Noemí, a partner in Candida’s egg business. “We won’t stop when the project ends; we want to continue with what we already have, creating other initiatives that are maybe even bigger,” Noemí adds. “That’s the idea: not to be satisfied with the little we have, but to expand.”

She and Candida have already sold around 900 eggs and now have four local stores as regular customers. “The project is important – it helps families with limited resources, like mine,” says Cándida, “It enables us to do something new while continuing to farm coffee.”

Rosemary Trent is the director of strategic partnerships at Save the Children U.S.