Louise Whitaker; Group Support Manager, Bewley’s UK
Visit to the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative in Nicaragua and Unlocking the power of Women in Coffee.
Louise began her presentation by stating that over 125 million people in 70 countries worldwide rely on coffee as the main cash crop. However, the coffee plant does not like quick changes in growing conditions and is largely intolerant of progressive temperature increases. Coffee is also very labour intensive and prone to pests and fungal diseases. Coffee seedlings take 4 to 5 years to produce in nurseries before any coffee cherries grow on the bush. The first crop is discarded before the best cherries mature. When ripe, the cherries are hand-picked, sorted, and then de-pulped to obtain the two green coffee beans in each cherry. The green coffee beans are then place in the sun to dry for 3 – 7 days and turned regularly.
Women provide much of the labour in what are often male-dominated societies, as well as looking after the children, cooking, collecting water, shopping, or running small businesses in local markets
Louise referred to a newly published ICO document examining gender equality and climate change.
When women have access to finance, credit, training, and are involved in the decision making processes of the cooperative, women tend to save more money than men as well as direct more of that finance to providing for the family.
Members of the SOPPEXCCA Cooperative pay to be part of the Fairtrade auditing scheme to have the certification logo on their coffee and cocoa products. Fairtrade membership entitlements include:-
- Gender equality
- Equal pay for men and women
- One member one vote on business and community project decisions
- Access to credit – (a holistic approach is taken)
- Women managers and leaders act as “role models” in the cooperative expanding the narrative
- Money provides for school bags, paper, pens, and child uniforms even though state education is free
- Children can then aspire to colleges and universities for professional training
- With credit, women can start their own coffee or small businesses.
e.g. women collect organic honey from bees and combine this with home grown maize to produce energy bars, which are sold locally in markets, shops and even exported
- This in turn provides access to more credit e.g. $10,000 for marketing of biscuits and energy bars. A wheel begins to role and gather pace, so creating a new mini-enterprise
There is a clear role for women in businesses as well as community, empowering and enhancing their status, closing the gender gap. Women work hard in the production of coffee but can create quite innovative enterprises which diversify the economy based on local conditions and advantages. Women understand the relationship of their work with the land and the environment and can help fight climate change.
During her 2018 visit to SOPPEXCCA Cooperative, Louise met a number of women with interesting stories to tell about improving their economic opportunities as well social and community benefits, once they have access to credit, they become entrepreneurs and role models. Money has also come from Melissa Gates and the Hilary Clinton Foundations.
Greta: 90% of her income was directed to her family, improving diet, health and education opportunities. She works in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Farmers would lose money if their coffee were not sold under Fairtrade terms. Being involved in both business and community decision making means inclusion and empowerment for women in SOPPEXCCA. The current General manager of the cooperative is Fatima Ismael, who is responsible for over 800 individual coffee farmers.
Rosa: listed a number of advantages since she became a smallholder. Land can now be registered in a woman’s name, and encourages economic diversity and the setting up of micro-businesses apart from growing the cash crop – coffee. Gender equality is established as well as young people can see the improvements and realize that farming can offer a living wage and a future.
Maxima: Her coffee is sold under the Women’s coffee label – “Sisters. The Fairtrade money earned is allocated to school equipment for her children. With the low coffee prices, she has stated growing cocoa as a main cash crop. Cocoa benefits include:-
- Stable higher income than coffee and is viewed as a “buffer” crop
- Grows all the year round
- Provides more money out of the coffee harvest season
- Has started to make her own chocolate bars
- Cocoa grows well at lower levels on land formally used for coffee production
- She is seen as a role model for other female producers
- Mutual skill sharing and utilizing cross-product marketing.
Myrtle: She established a small cafe on her coffee growing land and taught herself to become a barista by studying at weekends.
Climate change has a human cost as well as an immediate environmental crop.
Notes Produced by:
Chairman, Wycombe Fairtrade