Young cocoa farmers grow their entrepreneurial skills

Young cocoa farmers grow their entrepreneurial skills

in News
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Selene Casanova
Selene Casanova
International communications

Yes, this is something we can do”, says Ingrid to Jessica, while they are preparing a chocolate drink over a traditional woodfire. In this open-air kitchen, in the middle of the fields of the Eco-farm Luna del Puente, they use age-old tools, like stone mortars, and more contemporary, but just as simple tools, like manual cocoa grinding machines.

The eco-farm was one of the stops on an exchange trip of six young Nicaraguan cocoa producers to Honduras. The purpose of the trip was to learn more about youth enterprises in Honduras, to be able to set up their own start-ups in their home communities.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), young people represent 40% of all unemployed people in Latin-America. The difficulties youth face to find employment, especially in rural areas, lead them to believe that migration towards the cities is the only way out. But employment options are often risky, even dangerous, and limited to the informal sector, where the youngsters cannot exercise their rights.

Abner Páez was very impressed by Tania’s business: “She knew there were quite a lot of other enterprises selling beans, but she persisted until she obtained credit, managed to overcome issues with her partners, introduced innovations in the preparation and flavour of the beans to respond to market demands, and she managed to become competitive.”

Other participants to the exchange visit were Domingo Gómez, Dalila Alarcón, Zayda Guillen, Ingrid Páez and Jessica Soza. All of them are young cocoa farmers and have participated in VECO Mesoamerica’s “Yes Youth Can” initiative, which was funded by the Belgian foundation YOUCA.

The “Yes Youth Can” initiative was launched in 2015, and contributes to reducing the migration of rural youth, by tackling the inequality they face and by empowering them on a personal and economic level. 208 young men and women, living in 17 communities in Nicaragua’s Matagalpa department, all related to the cocoa cooperative ‘La Campesina’, benefit from this initiative.

Learning about entrepreneurship from early on

The six Nicaraguan youngsters learned that Tania, from “Beans Moreno”, and other youngsters from the rural areas in eastern and central Honduras received trainings about entrepreneurship and business plans from the Network of Technical Communitarian Institutes (ITC/EDUCAR). The ITC/ EDUCAR network furthermore launched competitions, through which they could gain access to seed money to create their start-ups.

I like what the EDUCAR network is doing, how they manage funds and finance innovative ideas. They offer credit at low risk, to incentivise efficient management. That’s very good, because, once someone returns his or her loan, the network can in turn provide capital to more youngsters to launch their start-ups.

Domingo Gómez 23 years old cocoa producer from Río Blanco, Nicaragua

Through “Yes Youth Can”, VECO Mesoamerica has been strengthening the personal and technical skills of young cocoa farmers, especially women, to encourage sustainable leadership in the cocoa value chain. In this regard, they have been provided with inputs, training and input and access to finance for the most innovative business ideas.

"We see these young people grow every day. Together, they manage 700 cocoa plants, and they have already identified a buyer for their harvest. We look forward to how their proactivity and commitment to learning are inspiring more young people to become part of the cooperative. They truly are frontrunners." says Jorge Flores, coordinator of the initiative.

An opportunity that goes beyond cocoa

In addition to learning about other youth’s experiences in entrepreneurship, the group also visited ecotourism micro-enterprises linked to the cultivation of cocoa, located in the department of Cortés, Honduras, such as the ecological park “Paradise”. One learning that stood out during the visit to the eco-park, was how important it is to look “beyond cocoa”, to the entire ecosystem surrounding the crop. The eco-park pays a great deal of attention to conserving the flora and fauna, and offers visitors the chance to observe birds.

Preserving the environment is one of the greatest contributions the new generations can make to mitigate climate change. In the case of young farmers, it is crucial to support them so they can become strong voices in favour of the environment and thus transform the face of agriculture.

In the eco-park, we learned about economic alternatives linked to cocoa production. They gave us ideas about how to organise our community to offer touristic services. For instance: someone can guide walks through the cocoa plantations, another person can sell food, another family can provide homestays, for everyone in the community to benefit.

Ingrid Páez 16 years old, cocoa farmer in Matiguás, Nicaragua

During the exchange visit, the youngsters also received theoretical and practical talks from ASEPRA (Enterprise for Agroindustrial Assessment and Production Services) and FHIA (Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation).

Jessica Soza shared that she was most impressed by the visit to Eco-farm Luna del Puente. “I immediately imagined myself giving a cocoa tour, teaching tourists to prepare cocoa drinks the artisanal way. The farm’s kitchen was similar to the ones in our houses. I was also really surprised to see how many cheap and easy ways there are to make cocoa derivatives, like soaps and creams.”

For VECO Mesoamérica, guaranteeing equal opportunities for young people, especially women, is crucial to guarantee a sustainable cocoa sector. Agriculture is an economic activity with important potential for job and income creation. Strengthening youth leadership and empowerment can increase productivity and accelerate the adoption of innovations, which can in turn lead to less migration to the cities or to other countries, less teen pregnancies and an improved standard of living in rural areas.