Celebrating women in coffee

Posted by Liz Foggitt on 1 October 2018

Over 125 million people worldwide rely on coffee for their livelihoods. So, International Coffee Day is a brilliant opportunity to sit back, enjoy a cup of coffee and reflect on where it came from. A quick decision of which coffee you buy, has the potential to create a positive impact on many people's lives.

This year’s theme is gender equality – a very important topic for us and the coffee farmers we work with. To mark the day, we want to share how we address gender issues, both through our project support and through our work buying and selling coffee. In this blog, we look specifically at Mzuzu - a cooperative union in Malawi.

Eunice Nkhoma sorting cherries at Ntchenachena washing stations wednesday is delivery day for women farmersMzuzu part of our Maanda project which is funded by Comic Relief. The project works with seven cooperatives (coops) in four countries in East Africa. Since the project launched in 2014, we have supported over 11,000 women.

Women play a vital role in growing coffee. They are active in every stage of the agricultural process and provide up to 70% of the labour in East African coffee production. However, men are more likely to transport crops and sell coffee, meaning they usually have control over the household income. As such, women can be left unrecognised and unrewarded.

In Mzuzu we work with cooperatives to improve the quality of coffee, financial management, governance and marketing of produce. But we also weave gender issues into each strand of our work. Over the five-year programme, we aim to:

  • increase female membership and leadership,
  • offer greater access to resources for women,
  • establish women’s committees and help share learning among the wider community,
  • run workshops on economic empowerment,
  • market coffee grown by women.

To achieve this, we have run workshops with both men and women using the gender action learning (GALS) approach. This is a creative way to talk about challenges facing coffee farming families and to hear from both men and women. The groups encouraged to share their experiences by drawing their social and economic realities. The workshops create a space to discuss men and women’s roles in the house and on the farm. Group discussions during GALS often lead to families and farms reassessing gender roles and creating more balance.

Combined with the GALS workshops, we worked with Mzuzu to encourage women to participate in decision making. The union now specifies that there needs to be a minimum of 30% of female representatives on the board. In addition, if the chair is male, the vice chair needs to be female and vice versa. And of the 648 women, 313 are in decision making positions.

One female member said, “We should have the spirit that whatever a man can do, a woman can also do. We should not fear.

Mzuzu ran campaigns in six coops to persuade men to share part of their land with their wives. Now, 648 female coffee producers have access to land shared with their husbands or fathers. The union is now working for the women to have rights to the land they are using.

Marketing is one of the most powerful tools to address women’s empowerment. Mzuzu now sells coffee produced by women separately and ensure all the profits go straight to the women farmers. The trading arm of Twin sells this coffee and provides female farmers with access to an international marketplace. Some buyers are particularly interested in buying coffee produced by women and sharing that story with their consumers.

Some of the profits from the women’s coffee has been spent on starting a microcredit facility. Five groups have been formed and so far, 80 women have benefitted from access to microcredit. Premium money has also been spent on improving homes with iron roofing, cement floors and better ventilation and sending children to school. 

Together with Mzuzu, we have worked hard over the past five years to increase women’s access to the benefits of coffee. As you sit down with a warm, comforting cup of coffee, it’s worth considering what’s happening behind the scenes and how your daily caffeine fix can be a small step towards empowering women.

If you want to read more about Twin’s work on gender equality, read our report, Empowering Women Farmers in Agricultural Value Chains. If you are interested in buying some Mzuzu coffee from our trading team, please contact Maire Reier, Senior Trader and Marketer.