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Why your morning coffee depends on closing the gender gap

Almost three-quarters of labour on coffee farms is provided by women. But fair access to land and resources is lacking. For Fairtrade Fortnight, Positive News explores why empowering women in the industry is key to the longevity of your morning flat whites

Almost three-quarters of labour on coffee farms is provided by women. But fair access to land and resources is lacking. For Fairtrade Fortnight, Positive News explores why empowering women in the industry is key to the longevity of your morning flat whites

If you’ve ever tried to organise an office coffee round, you’ll know that everyone’s got their caffeine-based idiosyncrasies. But whether you’re the type to opt for an espresso or an oat milk double shot cappuccino, there is one uniting factor. One of the most popular drinks on the planet wouldn’t be possible without women.

According to the International Coffee Organization, 70 per cent of the labour that goes into coffee production comes from women. At the same time, less than a third of farms are female-operated — and many of these women have less access to land, knowledge and finance, which directly affects their crop yield, revenue and household welfare. 

Coffee farmer Marie Claire selects beans at Koakaka cooperative in Rwanda. Image: Shared Interest

It’s a problem that affects coffee drinkers everywhere, especially as global coffee consumption continues to rise steadily. Only by empowering women can we meet future demands for the drink, as well as safeguard production from the impacts of climate change. According to some estimations, by 2050, the number of regions highly suited to growing coffee will have declined by 50 per cent, due to a combination of rising temperatures and increased rainfall, which will affect soil pH and texture.

For Merling Preza, the female founder of Prodecoop coffee cooperative in Nicaragua, it starts with access to land. “That’s one of the challenges we face; even though we do have 854 women, the majority of these women have less than two hectares. Women have the smallest area of production in general.” 

Preza’s cooperative uses the Fairtrade Premium to help tackle this. Baked into the price of Fairtrade goods, it’s a communal fund that farmers can use to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. They use some of this cash to help women buy their own land or renovate plots.

Prodecoop also trains women directly in both the value chain of coffee and in areas like leadership, finance, and credit. “The aim is that by developing their skills they can access leadership roles,” says Preza.

Whatever style of coffee you fancy, it's made possible in large part by women farmers. Image: Nathan Dumlao

Land is also the focus for Marie Claire, who works at Koakaka coffee cooperative in Rwanda. She’s part of the company’s Women in Coffee group, which has just under 300 members. One of its current initiatives calls on male farmers to give away a small coffee plot to a female member of their household.

“Changes are here, resulting from the cooperative and resulting from the women’s group,” she says. We learn to plant trees that add more shade to the coffee fields, and we learn proper techniques to apply manure and mulch them.

“Coffee farming has led me to good achievements. And my children can’t lack food as a result of working on the coffee farm. So there is change.”

Patricia Alexander is the managing director of social lender Shared Interest. It provides support to Fairtrade and social impact businesses across the globe, providing working capital at fair rates. 

She agrees that empowering women within the coffee industry has wide-reaching results. “Gender equality has an extremely significant part to play in strengthening communities,” says Alexander. “Over a third of the producers we reach are women, and by particularly supporting those who live in rural and remote regions, we can increase productivity and promote economic growth. Narrowing the gender gap not only helps women prosper, it helps their families and communities thrive.”

Want to invest in a fairer world? Shared Interest forms the vital link between UK social investors and fair trade organisations in 45 countries Open a share account today with £100. Find out more

Shared Interest also puts women at the heart of its investments. As well as tracking the impact their funding makes to women entrepreneurs, much of their funding allows female farmers to be paid at the point of harvest, rather than when the coffee beans are exported.

The key to success though, is working together. “I encourage all women to prepare for big goals and have the confidence to achieve them,” says Elizabeth Arista Salazar. She’s the president of Cooparm coffee cooperative’s women’s committee in Peru. “You would be amazed at the times this combination works miracles.”


Three tasty Fairtrade brands to try

Cafédirect Machu Picchu

The UK’s first and largest Fairtrade hot drinks brand, they’re also the favourite cup for Shared Interest’s Patricia Alexander, who drinks four a day.

Start with their Machu Picchu blend, which is stocked in all big supermarkets, where you can also return the packaging to be recycled. Grown at extreme altitudes, it’s a full-bodied coffee with dark chocolate overtones.

Image: courtesy of Cafédirect

Land Girls sumatran coffee

Founded in 2020, Land Girls only sells coffee from women producers, in order to “support those who go against the grain”.

Its Sumatran coffee is the perfect way to start the day — it’s an intense hit packed with earthy flavours and hints of citrus and apricot. Buy on their website as a one-off or subscription.

Image: courtesy of Land Girls

Grumpy Mule Fuzera La Labor

Aside from having a truly excellent name, Grumpy Mule is also certified organic as well as Fairtrade. 

Its Fuzera La Labor bag boldly proclaims itself as a “hump day hero”. Grown in Honduras and roasted in Yorkshire, it’s a balanced cup that lingers with you, with notes of toffee and pecan nuts. Pick a bag up on their website.

Image: courtesy of Grumpy Mule

Main image: Merling Preza, founder of Prodecoop coffee cooperative. Credit: Shared Interest

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