Words by Kathy Myers, SDCN Experience Director. Photos by Maria Hill of Nimble Media and Creative Commons. 

A smallholder coffee farmer in Colombia's southwestern Cauca department.  NP coffee cooperative by Neil Palmer (CIAT) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A smallholder coffee farmer in Colombia's southwestern Cauca department. 
NP coffee cooperative by Neil Palmer (CIAT) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since 2003, the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), has driven women’s economic empowerment in the global coffee industry. Empowerment has meant a move towards equal access to capital, training, resources, income, and influence for women in coffee producing countries. Empowerment has not yet yielded gender equality, however.

Inarguably, economic inequality is a human rights issue. For those with an eye on profit, however, the facts bear that gender inequality is also a strangling impediment to economic growth. This year the IWCA annual lunch event at the National Coffee Association Convention (NCAUSA) in San Diego focused on the business case for equality, and the billions in lost dollars to global GDP due to gender inequality.

Henriette Kolb at the NCA. Photo by Maria Hill, Nimble Media. 

Henriette Kolb at the NCA. Photo by Maria Hill, Nimble Media. 

Keynote speaker Henriette Kolb, Head of the Gender Secretariat at the International Finance Corporation (IFC) made clear that the barriers to full economic engagement for women are complex. But economic inequality is not just keeping money out of women’s bank accounts, it’s resulting in missed revenue opportunities for business. She points to the McKinsey Global Institute report “The Power of Parity”, which estimates that $12 to $28 trillion could be gained by bringing women fully into the economy.

Constraints to women’s full economic participation include:

  •  lack of access to resources including credit
  • limited land ownership – IWCA reports that only 1% of land titles are held by women
  • lack of access to technology
  • lack of training, tools, and knowledge of best practices
  • limited control over household income and resources
  • limits to freedom – in 18 countries, a woman needs permission from her husband to work
  • time demands – women are responsible for the care of children, aging family members, and the home, regardless of employment status of her or her spouse
  • social norms that exclude women from higher paying positions or sectors.

But when women have more of their own money and more of the decision making power of where money is spent, as much as 90% of that money is reinvested in their family, improving the education and health of their children, and the local community.

IWCA and Earth’s Choice Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund are taking on the first of those constraints, the lack of access to credit. They have partnered to create a funding platform for women in coffee that allows access to credit, financial literacy, and resources to grow their business and their influence in the communities at origin. 
http://www.womenincoffee.org/earths-choice

Gikanda Coffee Farm, a Coffee Management Systems and Nestle Project in Kenya.  Wet Mill Cherry by Coffee Management Services is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gikanda Coffee Farm, a Coffee Management Systems and Nestle Project in Kenya. 

Wet Mill Cherry by Coffee Management Services is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The hard truth: gender inequality is the current reality in coffee farming. In the past two years, the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) Partnership for Gender Equity has identified the existing gender disparity and its impact on the supply chain, and is now creating “A Way Forward” for the industry. Phase 2 of their efforts, launched in 2016, involves pilot programs at origin to increase women’s access to training and reduce the time pressure on women to ultimately achieve greater gender balance in leadership positions. CQI is inviting widespread participation in their pilots and in spreading successful models.

In 2015, SCAA published A Blueprint for Gender Equality in the Coffeelands that gathered disheartening data and promising best practices from sources across the agribusiness sector. For a real financial context on gender inequity in coffee farming, SCAA references a study by TWIN (a sustainable development organization) that reports “the gap in coffee income across seven East African producer organizations was measured at $440 USD for female farmers and $716 for male farmers … a 39% wage gap.” In terms of pocket money, that means a male farmer makes $1 for every 61 cents a woman earns for the same work.

“The specialty coffee industry has a tremendous opportunity to minimize the gender gap in agriculture to the benefit of our specialty coffee supply and our suppliers,” the SCAA report concludes.

The CQI report makes no bones in stating, “There are two main reasons to invest in gender equity in coffee, it’s right for people and it’s right for business.” 

An informal cupping session in the village of La Florida in Colombia's Nariño Department.  Nariño Coffee 51 by Neil Palmer (CIAT) is licensed under CC BY 2.0  

An informal cupping session in the village of La Florida in Colombia's Nariño Department. 

Nariño Coffee 51 by Neil Palmer (CIAT) is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Kolb highlighted recent efforts on the part of some of the world’s largest agribusiness. Historically, the mass commodity market for coffee has been concerned with profit to exclusion of other considerations like fair labor and earth care. No longer the exclusive terrain of government initiatives, social policies, or small niche markets, efforts to bring about economic gender equality are now becoming essential in large scale private sector business because they have real outcomes on productivity and profit. 

Nestlé, the largest coffee trader in the world, has invested in training women in agriculture best practices and in business and leadership skills with the aim of having women in at least one third of leadership positions in the Kenyan regional coffee cooperatives. Svetlana Obruchkova, Managing Director of Nestlé Kenya points out that, “Women do more than two thirds of the work involved in coffee farming in Kenya. However, fewer than 5% of leadership roles in coffee cooperatives in the country are currently held by women.”

In Indonesia and Vietnam IFC works with ECOM, the second largest coffee trader, on Farmer Training Centers (FTCs). “The FTCs help farmers improve coffee productivity and quality, reduce costs and obtain internationally recognized certification for sustainable production.”

The real economic impact? According to IFC, “Around 4,000 farmers from Vietnam who obtained the certifications have increased their total income by about $6.6 million, and about 6,000 farmers from Indonesia experienced total increased incomes of about $3.8 million.”

At a more personal level, those income increases change the lives of the women farmers and their families. That money buys shoes and pays school fees for the children, gives women access to technology that connects them to a global marketplace, and adds to the purchasing power that feeds the community.

Because of the predominance of women already in the coffee supply chain, could coffee lead the move towards gender equity and economic equality? The industry is in the early days of making such a monumental move. If the market demands it, how will the private sector respond to accommodate equal pay and value chain culture shifts? 

Mery Santos at NCA. Photo by Maria Hill, Nimble Media.

Mery Santos at NCA. Photo by Maria Hill, Nimble Media.

Mery Santos, President of IWCA and an influential woman in the coffee industry for decades, closed the NCA lunch event by issuing a challenge to the gathered coffee professionals. A challenge to move from caring to action through investment in the Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund.

About Henriette Kolb:

Henriette Kolb is the Head of the Gender Secretariat at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group.
She serves as an advocate for gender equality issues in the private sector and leads a team that works with IFC's clients to include both women and men as entrepreneurs, employees, consumers, community stakeholders and leaders.
Before joining IFC in September 2013, she was the CEO of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, where she remains involved as a senior advisor. Henriette also serves as a member of Secretary Hillary Clinton's International Council on Women's Business Leadership.

About IFC: 
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) is the largest global development institution focused exclusively on the private sector. We help developing countries achieve sustainable growth by financing investment, mobilizing capital in international financial markets, and providing advisory services to businesses and governments.
We advance the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and increasing shared prosperity by investing in and advising the private sector.

About IWCA: 
The IWCA focuses their efforts to fund and build programming around four pillars.  These programs are delivered at origin and help to drive success for female participants in the coffee supply chain.  

1. Chapter Operations & Development
2. Community Improvement
3. Coffee Training & Education
4. Coffee Capital/Construction Development
IWCA and Earth’s Choice Women of Coffee Microfinance Fund http://www.womenincoffee.org/earths-choice

 

 

 

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