Guardian Sustainable Business Blog – 2013

Small holder farmers produce the majority of the world’s coffee. And within that women’s work remains largely invisible, despite them doing 60-80% of the productive work. Not only don’t they gain financially, they are typically not included in decision making within their coffee co-operative, community or even household. This can, in part, be due to their workload but can also be due to their husband’s reluctance to let them participate, or their own lack of confidence. This is not just an issue for the women involved but for the communities themselves.

Reports produced by the UN and the World Bank have stated that gender equality makes good economic and social sense, and that when women control the household finances more money is spent within the household than outwith. This has implications across health, education, land ownership and entire communities. Also, agricultural policies and training are often targeted at men, but if women are trained properly not only should production increase but there could be improved food security for the world’s population. Simple steps can have far-reaching consequences.

So in 2011, with the help of our partner Twin Trading, we developed our “Grown by Women” range. We purchase coffee directly from women farmers that are members of the coffee co-operatives we already work with. This has helped empower women to join their co-operatives, take part in meetings and decision making and finally receive payment for the work that they do.

We pay a small women’s premium, and the women farmers decide themselves how this is distributed. It can go directly back to the farmers who produced the coffee as an incentive for more women to join, or it can be used as a fund to benefit the wider community.

We purchase from women farmer members of SOPEXXCA (Nicaragua), UNICAFEC (Peru) and Gumutindo (Uganda) and although our volumes are small, the impact is already being felt. The women themselves are feeling more confident and valued and are pleased that they have a voice which is heard at last.

In UNICAFEC, Peru they have been actively trying to improve the role of women within their co-operative. In 2006 there were 20 female members – now there are 73 and they have representation on the board.

In SOPEXCCA, Nicaragua there were five female members in 2005 and now there are over 280. In Gumutindo, Uganda, there are 76 female members – 13% of total members.

The projects the women’s premium has been spent on is varied, but all are inspiring and effective. In Nicaragua this has funded a mobile cervical screening unit. In Unicafec they have been replacing old stoves with efficient new ones.