FULL OF BEANS - Empowering women to help tackle climate change in the coffee industry

FULL OF BEANS - Empowering women to help tackle climate change in the coffee industry

14 December 2017

The challenges facing coffee growers around the world are well documented. 

The regions where coffee is grown are some of the hardest hit by the effects of climate change, with erratic weather patterns affecting crop quality and the health of the coffee trees, leading to lower incomes and some farmers struggling to make a decent livelihood.   
It’s a challenge that everyone in the industry has a responsibility to address and that’s why in 2015 we started an exciting project that brought together our supply chain in Peru. Those involved included Taylors of HarrogateMatthew Algie, Twin Trading and farmers from two of our partner co-operatives  in Pangoa (Junin region, 250km East of Lima) and San Juan del Oro (near the border with Bolivia). 

Initially we worked with farmers to analyse the challenges they faced farming coffee beans in Peru.  Unsurprisingly our analysis identified the urgent need mitigate against and adapt to increasingly erratic climate patterns, including planting a more diverse range of trees to help improve soil structure, protect against disease and prevent erosion.

Crucially, we also discovered that, although women do much of the work on farms, few women were directly involved in the management of farms or cooperatives, in training, or in selling coffee. Also, not enough women were having a say in decision making and were rarely invited to attend meetings or training sessions.  

Diversity in our supply chains is crucial to its success and ensuring that we have a focus on women has now become one of our key Plan A commitments. It is also the focus of a new reporton Women’s Economic Empowerment by Linda Scott of Oxford University – the active participation of women in business supply chains will reap rewards for us all. Bringing this back to the world of coffee – research shows there are links between the active participation of women through training and farming and improved coffee quality and increased production. We felt that unlocking the potential of women in the cooperatives would play a pivotal role in solving some of the challenges the coffee sector is facing. 

We therefore considered how to get more women actively involved in cooperatives, involved in management decisions, empowering them to have a more active role in household decisions and managing their family farms.  

Our partners on the ground (Twin) devised a programme that would help women understand the barriersand how they could be overcome. Working with them we facilitated Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS) workshops with 390 coffee farming families. 

GALS helps communities develop new visions for women and men to relate to each
other as equals. The philosophy promotes both rights and economic autonomy by focusing on freedom from violence, equality of property ownership, equality of decision-making, equality of work and leisure, and freedom of thought and association.

Our programme is ongoing, but the results so far are encouraging. Of the 390 families that have taken part, over half have reported a change in behaviours and a better understanding of the important role women play in coffee production. 

The cooperatives, which were previously dominated by men, are reporting an increase in women signing up as members and a small loan scheme has been established to enable women to set up their own businesses and sell products at local markets – giving them some financial independence for the first time. 

We’re hearing great stories such as Maura Rochas from Pangoa. Maura and her husband both attended a GALS training and Maura was also able to access a small business loan from the project. For the first time Maura and her husband have a shared, long-term plan for the development of their coffee farm, and they have used the loan to build up Maura’s supplementary guinea pig rearing business. Maura has responsibility for her business and is investing the small profits she is starting to see in improving the farm.

Working in partnership with Twin, the two coffee cooperatives are now planning to roll this training out further to ensure that all 1,750 farmers in the cooperatives and their households can take part. With this, we’re hoping that the crucial role that women play in the production of sustainable coffee is as recognised and valued as it should be. Alongside a push for industry partners to invest more in supporting sustainable coffee production, we hope this work will ultimately result in more money for farmers and a sustainable coffee supply for coffee lovers around the world. 

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