What does it mean to celebrate womxn’s progress?

On this International Women's Day, we commemorate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, while acknowledging the many obstacles and gender-power imbalances women face, especially in coffee and cocoa communities in Latin America. For this blog entry, we shine the light on a growing organization, Bean Voyage, that is empowering women in Costa Rica.


By: Sunghee Tark and Abhinav Khanal. Co-Founders, Bean Voyage

We tend to celebrate the success of women around the world for only a day. At Bean Voyage, we have been celebrating and supporting smallholder women coffee producers for the past four years. To us, the concept of International Women’s Day can be misguided and is often incomplete. We believe we need to spend more than a day to understand the various challenges faced by smallholder women coffee producers and that the smaller victories in ensuring gender equality should be celebrated along the way. In this piece, we attempt to share an outline of our efforts to support smallholder women coffee producers in Costa Rica, but are also cognizant of the fact that this is not a full picture of the many complex issues our mission aims to address. 

Group visit to CATIE. Photo: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl

Group visit to CATIE. Photo: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl

In December 2014, while organizing workshops for a women’s association in Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica, we shared meals and stories with smallholder women in the region who were heavily involved in coffee production. During one of our conversations, we asked them, “what does coffee mean to you?”. Their answers were “trabajo” (hard work), “dinero” (money), and “forma de vida” (form of life). As coffee lovers, who often associated coffee with words such as freshness, passion, energy and a morning ritual, we were shocked to learn that coffee producers were facing dreadful economic conditions.

 

We learned that producers were spending $1.40 to produce a pound of coffee, and the market was paying as low as $0.97 per pound of coffee[1]. We discovered that these challenges were not unique to a small community in Perez Zeledon, and that there are over 5 million smallholder women around the world who heavily depend on coffee for their livelihood but are not able to make a sustainable living from its production. Women own 25% of the world’s coffee farms, and form 70% of the workforce in the coffee supply chain[2]. Yet, they earn 39% less than their male counterparts, produce lower quality yields, and are challenged with lack of finance and gender-based discrimination.

 

Upon further investigation, we learned that increased income for female coffee producers correlates to improved well-being for their family[3]. Improved education and participation of women in labor force link to faster economic growth. Bean Voyage believes that when female coffee producers are empowered to understand and improve the quality of their coffee, they can generate more income for their family and lead their communities towards a sustainable future.

 

Graduation 2018 with Leida. Photo: Maria Fernanda Carrillo

Graduation 2018 with Leida. Photo: Maria Fernanda Carrillo

Today, we provide training and market access to smallholder women coffee producers so they can produce specialty coffee, earn a better income, and lead their communities towards a sustainable future. Through a model called Care Trade, we use a two-pronged approach to solve the existing challenges. First, through an extensive training program, we prepare smallholder women to turn their pre-commercial coffee cherries into commercial products, ready for the market. Then, we facilitate global market access for their products through an e-commerce platform while raising awareness on the gender inequalities in the coffee supply chain and the importance of conscious coffee consumption.

 

We have supported 47 smallholder women through the Care Trade program, and ensured a 300% increase in revenue from coffee sales. In the past, we have collaborated with organizations such as Root Capital, Byoearth, CATIE and individuals such as Lucia Solis to provide training on topics such as sustainable coffee production, financial planning and budgeting, climate change adaptation, processing innovation, roasting and cupping.

 

However, we recognize that our efforts are only as sustainable as our ability to ensure a balance between our training program and market connection. Our ability to scale this program to support most of the five million smallholder women around the world will depend on our ability to sustain this balance. In order to achieve this, we are increasing our efforts to collaborate with different actors across the coffee industry such as exporters and roasters to ensure greater market opportunities for our producers that align with our vision to reach five million smallholder women in 12 countries in the next 15 years.

 

Grace at CATIE. Photo: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl

Grace at CATIE. Photo: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl

On this International Women’s Day, we are calling upon the global coffee community for two asks: First, we ask that you make a more concerted effort to celebrate the contribution of women in coffee on a more institutional level, rather than just using this day as a single marketing opportunity; second, we invite our colleagues to join us on our mission to impact the lives of five million smallholder women coffee producers and their communities. If you’re a buyer, we hope you will consider sponsoring a community and purchasing womxn-powered coffee for your customers. If you are a barista or a coffee shop owner, we invite you to ask more questions from your providers on the impact they are making in the communities from where they source their coffee. Following a certification or the word of mouth alone is simply not enough; we need to ask more challenging questions of each other if we seek to truly celebrate the leadership of women in the coffee sector.

[1] Today, the price of coffee is under $1.00 again

[2] International Coffee Day 2019: https://internationalcoffeeday.org/

[3] http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures


For more information on how SAFE is working to empower women, please visit our Harvesting Transformation magazine.

Frailes group. Photo: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl

Frailes group. Photo: Marlies Gabriele Prinzl