Bicycles have an impact in Carazo, Nicaragua

Martín Meléndez   

Bicycles have become something of a tradition in the department of Carazo, forming part of the local culture. Students, workers, women, even the elderly mobilize themselves with this environmentally friendly means of transport.

Some 15 years ago Grupo Sofonias introduced bicycles to Nicaragua, originally in “knocked down” state from India to be assembled, and since 1998 through Pedals for Progress, a U.S. organization that gathers used bicycles and sends them to southern countries.

The “business” of selling bicycles is a win-win situation. The population gets good quality bicycles at a good price, and Grupo Sofonias can use the profits for small projects with women´s groups within their program of reforestation. Even the government wins through import duties and the municipality through sales taxes.

Bicycle use in Jinotepe has increased tremendously, going beyond workers to spread through the population at large. Especially the use of the racing bikes, mountain bikes, and BMX has increased.

The clients – students, workers and women

The program mainly benefits the low-income sectors: workers, and in Nicaragua teachers and nurses fall into this category, students, housewives, as well as children and elderly people. Students and rural workers are the main clients, 35% students, and 30% rural workers. Women purchase about 25% of the bicycles.

Many students come from villages and suburbs to the capital of Jinotepe and are able to save costs of daily transportation, costs that are rising constantly. Some young people have also taken to cycling sports now that mountain bikes and racing bikes have become available.

For people in the countryside, in many places bicycles are replacing horses in many places. This allows people to move more rapidly, saving both time and money, as a horse costs more than a bicycle and needs to be fed. Agricultural workers like the mountain bikes, which are good on the rough country roads.

Among female buyers are nurses, teachers, and housewives, who use the bikes to go to work, or take their children to school, while for others it becomes a supportive tool for their work, as ambulant sellers of food, drinks and sweets.

Small-scale venders at the municipal markets account for some 5% of the bicycle clients, as do people of advanced age in the third life-stage, who use them for their personal activities and some even at the recommendation of their doctors.

Marketing and information

Various forms of communication are used to sell the bicycles. A continuous announcement on Radio Jinotepe informs listeners about the sale of used bicycles. Every two months a car with a megaphone circulates to inform the public in several villages close by, where banners are also hung across the streets to announce the bicycle sales. Grupo Sofonias even participated at the Industrial and Commericial Fair in Jinotepe at the beginning of December with a bicycle outlet and information center.

Another way we to sell the bicycles is to make consignment contracts with different people who have bicycle outlets in the markets of Diriamba and Jinotepe.

The municipalities of Diriamba and Dolores have signed agreements that allow their employees to buy bicycles on credit, but it is the municipalities that collect and once a month come to pay. There is a similar agreement with the Jinotepe Water Works.

Direct sales have been developed by going to nearby rural villages, with a strong impact at Malacatoya where 50 bicycles were sold.

Economic impact

Economically, the program has had a great impact on the Nicaraguan population, not only through savings in transportation costs, but also stimulating the development of small businesses, and thereby indirectly creating jobs. Even the government benefits through collection of sales taxes collected.

The spare parts that are sent with each container have been sold to small-scale bicycle parts merchants in Rivas, Masaya and Jinotepe. As well, with each bicycle sale a water bottle or protective helmet is given, depending upon the person´s preference.

Small bicycle repair shops have proliferated, not only in the departmental capital, but also in outlying rural villages. There are few places that do not have a small shop that sells or repairs bicycles.

The bicycle program with P4P is self-sustainable and even has allowed support within a reforestation project, whereby rural women learn to build stoves that use less firewood.

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