Mzuzu is a cooperative union with six member cooperatives, located in the central and Northern parts of Malawi. Coffee is centrally processed at 57 washing stations producing fully washed coffee.  It has 2,600 members, of which 648 are women.

Mzuzu first started working on gender issues in 2011, when they noticed stagnation in coffee quality and volumes. Analysing the causes of this, they discovered that women and children were gradually withdrawing their labour from coffee because men were controlling and sometimes misusing the income from coffee.

As a response to this, Mzuzu began a campaign to involve women more closely in the cooperative, and enable them to own and deliver their own coffee. They sensitised men to share land with their wives, and organised separate coffee collection days at the washing stations so that women could deliver coffee and receive payment directly. They then started marketing coffee grown by women in 2012-13. 

Of the women’s coffee premium (20 cts/lb):

  • 45% is paid directly to the women who delivered the coffee
  • 10% goes towards covering the costs of women’s meetings and activities at a primary cooperative level
  • 15% goes towards funding women’s meetings and activities at a union level
  • 30% is invested in a micro-credit fund. To date five groups have been formed, with a combined membership of 80 women. They can access microloans for small business activities or for investment in coffee. This is to supplement incomes of women who don’t own many coffee trees.

When Mzuzu started this programme, it had 108 farmers who were selling coffee as ‘women’s coffee’ through the union – this has increased to 564 women (2016-17). A total of 23 women committees have been set up at the Union and Cooperative level who provide direction and oversight on women’s programmes. Bylaws have been passed specifying that 30% of all board roles should be taken by women, and that if the chair of the board is male, the vice-chair should be female and vice versa. This is giving women a greater participation in decision-making within the organisation.

Men and women farmers report that having two sources of coffee income in the household has led to greater harmony and a better quality of life, with women investing more in their homes and in their children’s education. Mzuzu has been working with GALS since 2015, to further support changes in gender dynamics and improved livelihoods.

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