With a gross domestic product (GDP) of $6.2 billion and a per capita income of $1,071 in 2009, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The economy contracted by 1.5% in 2009, largely as a result of falling demand for Nicaraguan exports and decreased domestic investment. Official sources estimate GDP growth of 3%-4% for 2010, mainly due to an increase in commodity prices and Venezuelan-funded stimulus spending. Official unemployment in 2009 was 8%, but 65% of all workers earn a living in the informal sector, where underemployment is high. In 2009, Nicaraguans received $768 million in remittances from abroad, the majority from the United States. Total exports are equivalent to 39% of GDP.
Because Nicaragua has abundant arable land and water resources, agriculture will always be an important component of the economy. About a third of GDP is derived from agriculture, timber, and fishing. Opportunities exist in food and timber processing and preparation for export. Currently, most agriculture is small-scale and labor intensive. Livestock and dairy production have seen steady growth over the past decade and have taken the greatest advantage of free trade agreements. Many export products, especially coffee, have benefited from the recent rise in international commodity prices.
Most Nicaraguans are of both European and indigenous ancestry, and the culture of the country reflects the mixed Ibero-European and indigenous heritage of its people. Only the indigenous of the eastern half of the country remain ethnically distinct and retain their tribal customs and languages. A large black minority, of Afro-Caribbean origin, is concentrated along the Caribbean coast. In the mid-1980s, the central government divided the eastern half of the country--the former department of Zelaya--into two autonomous regions and granted the people of the region limited self-rule under an elected regional council of 45 deputies and an indirectly-elected governor.
Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion, but Evangelical Protestantism has experienced rapid growth over the past 10 years. There are strong Anglican and Moravian communities on the Caribbean coast, and a small Muslim population exists in Managua and in the larger cities along the Pacific coast. Buddhist and Jewish communities are small. Most Nicaraguans live in the Pacific lowlands and the adjacent interior highlands. The population is 58% urban.