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November’18 Editorial comment: Putting women at the heart of the coffee economy

November’18 Editorial comment: Putting women at the heart of the coffee economy

C&CI has looked at gender in the coffee industry on a number of occasions but it is worth reiterating just how central the role of women is, and how much the industry is missing out on by not affording them parity with men throughout the value chain.

Women play a crucial role in the global coffee value chain, from bean to cup. Up to 70% of labour in coffee production is provided by women, and around 25% of coffee farms worldwide are managed by female growers.

However, compared to men, female farmers face constraints in accessing production factors, markets, finance and extension services, resulting in a gender gap in coffee yield and income.

The gender gap extends further along the coffee value chain where women can often face social, cultural and economic barriers preventing them from reaching their employment and entrepreneurship aspirations.

Gender equality was included as one of the Millennium Development Goals and reconfirmed as a global priority within the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. Bridging the gender gap to empower women and provide equal opportunities in the coffee sector is a basic human right, so it was terrific to see the most recent meeting of the International Coffee Organization (ICO) focus in large part on the role of women in the coffee sector.

Right at this moment in time, prices are undoubtedly the most important issue in the industry, a fact that was pushed home by a meeting of producer associations I attended in September just prior to the ICO meetings. You can read about the points made at that meeting – and the adverse impact of the price crisis on communities the world over – elsewhere in this issue, but what was noticeable about that meeting was that of those sitting around the table, about 20 of us, only one was a woman. That tells you a lot.

At the ICO meetings the Regional director of UN Women for the Americas, Luiza Carvalho, made a presentation focusing on the importance of coffee for sustainable development and gender equality, especially in relation to rural women. Ms Carvalho joined all the participants in congratulating the ICO for pursuing gender equality in the coffee sector in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Evidence showed, she said, that where women shared decision-making with men, and where they had access to the resources that allowed them to contribute fully to the development of their households and communities, they created better futures for themselves, their families, and consequently for the coffee industry.

The World Bank estimates that among all people depending on coffee around the world, 25 million were coffee farmers and a vast majority were women. However, women earned less income, owned less land, controlled fewer assets, had less access to credit and market information, faced greater difficulty obtaining inputs, and had fewer training and leadership opportunities.

These obstacles faced by women, added to the day-to-day struggles faced by all people working in the coffee industry due to the effects of climate change, pest-related diseases –and of course the price crisis – create inefficiencies in the coffee value chain.

During the meetings, ICO members were invited to consider a proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the ICO and the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA). You can read more about the IWCA elsewhere in this issue, in the Profile section.

The aim of the partnership is to promote empowerment and inclusion as a means of achieving sustainable development through social and economic progress in coffee producing countries while protecting natural resources.

Kellem Emanuele, President of the IWCA – who is interviewed in the Profile section in this issue – emphasised key work areas at the alliance, which include identifying opportunities to incorporate gender distinctions into data collection, and to foster inclusion and engagement with results-driven leaders.

Kimberly Easson, Gender Advisor at the Coffee Quality Institute, explained in detail the three tools developed by the Partnership for Gender Equity to support gender equity programmes in the coffee sector. All members were invited to join a webinar on International Coffee Day exploring gender equity, organised in conjunction with the ICO and Global Coffee Platform, as well as view the ‘Gender in Coffee’ documentary ( produced by the Partnership for Gender Equity, now available online.

The ICO meetings also saw a thematic workshop on women in coffee, and a reception held to celebrate the launch of ‘Women of the Coffee in Brazil,’ which I can highly recommend. You can find the English language version of the e-book here: It also included a visit to Tate Roastery, to learn more about the roaster’s gender equality coffee project and a coffee cupping session with coffee roasters Girls who Grind, an all-female business.

It was also recommended that, in future, panels at ICO events should have a wider gender balance. That’s a great place to start.

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