• Inen Fitri, member of the Kopepi Ketiara in Indonesia. (Fairtrade ANZ)
From Africa to Asia, coffee cooperatives are a tool for women’s economic and social empowerment.
By
Nicola Heath

19 Aug 2019 - 11:37 AM  UPDATED 19 Aug 2019 - 11:40 AM

Coffee producers in countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Colombia face a multitude of challenges: rising production costs, labour and land shortages, climate change, and market volatility that has seen the coffee price dive in recent times.

It's women who bear the brunt of increasing poverty and social disadvantage all along the global coffee supply chain, particularly in the primary production stage. 

In the coffee industry, women make up a significant proportion of the labour force but are under-represented in leadership and decision-making roles. They also do more unpaid labour and domestic work and often have limited access to education and justice. 

HELPING WOMEN
At Song Kitchen, your dollars make a difference
All the proceeds go towards helping disadvantaged women. It’s a recipe for a great night out.

A 2016 UN report found that "rural women and girls tended to be less educated than men and boys, with less access to information, skills, training and labour markets, while facing greater risks of violence, child, early and forced marriage and harmful practices."

The road to female empowerment

Women-led cooperatives have emerged as a potent tool for female empowerment in nearly every coffee-growing region on the planet. According to an IMF report, increasing gender equality boosts economic growth and stability and leads to a cascade of other benefits, including improved health outcomes for women and children.

"She will work often 12 hours a day, tending the coffee bushes and attending to household duties...She has no time of her own and no property or money of her own."

In Kenya, agronomist Marion Ngang'a is the driving force behind advocacy group Fairtrade's Growing Women in Coffee project. In an article for Fairtrade, Ng'ang'a describes the life of a typical woman on a Kenyan coffee plantation. Historically, she would work first on her father’s farm and then on her husband's farm once married. "She will work often 12 hours a day, tending the coffee bushes and attending to household duties. This includes fetching firewood, cooking and cleaning. She has no time of her own and no property or money of her own."

In 2012, that began to change when Samson Koskei, the chairman of the Kabng'etuny cooperative in the highlands west of the Kenyan Rift Valley, gave his wife ownership of some of their farm’s coffee bushes. This gift meant that she was able to join the cooperative and, for the first time, earn her own income. 

Zeddy Rotich (Right) with other members of Kabngetuny Women in Coffee.
In the following year, Fairtrade launched the Growing Women in Coffee project to encourage more male farmers to follow Koskei's lead and transfer coffee bush ownership to their wives. Soon the cooperative had 300 female members, with another 150 joining the neighbouring Kapkiyai cooperative.  

Membership of the cooperatives delivered immediate benefits for female coffee farmers and their families. For the first time, women were financially independent with the means to pay for their children’s school fees and buy essentials like much-needed sanitary products.

STARRING SUSTAINABILITY
It’s time to explore Ethiopian coffee, here’s why
Australia is a coffee-obsessed nation, but how much do we know about the origin of this beloved beverage? Tinsae Yigletu is raising the profile of coffee and culture from her homeland Ethiopia.

At the same time, the Growing Women in Coffee program supplied households with biogas units to replace wood-fired stoves. It meant that women no longer had to spend 20 hours a week collecting increasingly scarce firewood to fuel fires that created health problems due to their smoke. 

In 2018, the Kabnge'tuny and Kapkiyai cooperatives released the first-ever Kenyan coffee grown exclusively by women. They called it Zawadi, the Swahili word for gift, a nod to both the initial offering of the coffee bushes that allowed women to join the cooperatives and the gift of economic independence that followed. 

Zeddy Rotich (Right) with other members of Kabngetuny Women in Coffee

Indonesia

On the other side of the globe, women in Indonesia have similarly benefited from joining female-led coffee cooperatives.

Rizkani Melati is the chairwoman of Koperasi Kopi Wanita Gayo, known as Kokowagayo, a female coffee cooperative founded in 2014 and based in Bener Meriah in Sumatra's Aceh Province. Located on the jungle-covered slopes of the Gayo Mountains, the 500-hectare Kokowagayo estate produces high-grade speciality organic coffee.

Melati tells SBS Food, from her home in Bener Meriah, "At first it was difficult to get permission from our husbands, but slowly they started to understand and support the women because they know that the cooperative gives them education and training to increase their knowledge about coffee."

Rizkhani Ani, Chairwoman of Koperasi Kopi Wanita Gayo

Intan Wahyoe, a program officer at the Fairtrade Network of Asia and Pacific Producers, says most coffee farms in the Aceh region are managed jointly between a wife and her husband.

While farm work is traditionally a man's domain, women perform many roles in the production of coffee, from pruning and harvesting to sorting. The Kokowagayo cooperative provides its 500 members with training in areas such as planting and processing to close gaps in women’s skills.

Female-run cooperatives like Kokowagayo also direct funds into creating programs and services aimed at women. The Kokowagayo co-op built a community centre above the wet mill where women can gather and attend training sessions and funded a cervical cancer screening program. 

Another Central Aceh cooperative, Arinagata, runs a local preschool for the children of coffee plantation workers. Arinagata's secretary, Mahayana Sari, is one of two women on the cooperative's three-member board. Of Arinagatas 2,165 members, 400 are women.

MINDFUL DRINKING
Trouble brewing: why your favourite coffee is changing
Is there anything farmers and coffee lovers can do?

"I enjoy my job because I love coffee very much," says Mahayana. "I can also influence the cooperative to do things not only for men but also for women."

Fairtrade’s Wahyoe says she wants to see more women like Melati and Sari take leadership roles in their communities to gain valuable skills in business and management.

"We are trying to encourage more female farmers to be delegates for their cooperatives," says Wahyoe. "We hope they can voice their needs, their concerns, and their aspirations in the general assemblies, so women's voices will be heard."

Love the story? Follow the author here: Twitter @nicoheath.

 

LOOKING AFTER OUR COFFEE FARMERS
This Perth cafe saved 33,000 kilos of waste from landfill in 3 months and created compost instead
Yelo cafe is just one of the forward-thinking cafes across Australia that are composting their coffee cups and takeaway packaging along with food scraps to reduce landfill.
You can now buy a reusable coffee cup made from bamboo chopsticks
Grabbing your morning latte just got a lot more sustainable.
How upcycling your coffee waste can help power a city bus
You’ll never look at your coffee the same way again.
Germany city’s answer to disposable coffee cups is genius
Disposable coffee cups are so 2017.
Why I stopped using coffee pods and bought a 'proper' espresso machine
Dom Knight has developed a healthy appreciation for the skills of a good barista.
What’s the best reusable coffee cup?
After ABC’s War on Waste, sales of reusable cups have soared - and the options are beautiful.
Planet-friendly pottery makes for a happy cup of coffee
Pottery for the Planet cups are finding fans across Australia.
Second Chance Coffee gives people a fresh start
A new coffee kiosk is giving former prison inmates new skills, plus connection and confidence.
East Timor, war, coffee and Australia's debt of honour
In wartime, food and drink can be a weapon, but also a token of hope - and the source of bonds that last for years, as two Australian cafes show.
10 clever things to do with used coffee grinds
The world consumes a lot of coffee - over 2.5 billion cups each day - and it's not just paper cups that head for the landfill. Here's how to get clever with your coffee grinds.