A Quiet Peaceful Revolution: Women in Coffee Part II

By Kelle Vandenberg, Vice President of Marketing, Pacific Bag Inc. & IWCA Vice-President

Women are assuming more leading roles in the world of coffee, but there are still many challenges for them to overcome. Part II of our continuing series on women in coffee focuses on women from El Salvador, the Philippines and Burundi who are innovating, teaching and giving back to their communities and the impact this is having on the farms and communities. Once again, the article is in their voices, in their words.

Within the world of coffee, women are taking more predominate roles in all aspects of the industry. In both consuming countries and in producing countries, women hold key positions of power, are leaders within their communities, and lend their voice to policies that affect their world.

I have heard the term “quiet revolution” used to describe the changing role women play within the coffee industry. The gender gap remains a real and true divide. Through the voices of the Women in Coffee, you begin to understand the challenges that women must overcome.

To quote my friend Lucia Abrego De Ortiz, a fourth-generation coffee producer (Las Mercedes Farm), El Salvador, “I think there are a lot of amazing women…the coffee business always used to be handled by men, but because of destiny or times, now more women are in charge of farms, as producers, and are getting involved in all facets of the coffee chain.”

The coffee industry has compounded challenges ahead with the rust outbreak affecting 53 percent of all coffee grown in the world, in all regions, per the International Coffee Organization, London, and the rising global temperatures affecting coffee yield worldwide, which is reducing overall coffee production.

It will take innovation and diversification to stabilize the coffee crisis. I believe that women are coming into larger roles in coffee due to the “changing times” allowing diversification of ideas, practices, and policy. The expanding role of women in coffee impacts directly the livelihood of their immediate community. Women, statistically, keep the money local, share their knowledge, and give back to their community. We see this happening all over the world, in every level of economic situations.

In Part II of Women in Coffee, I share with you a glimpse of some of the many women of coffee and the incredible example of successful innovation, teaching, and giving back to their community that strengthens the world of coffee, one farm at a time...

Women of El Salvador — As told by Lucia Ortiz 
Sonia Castañeda director of AMCES, Alianza de Mujeres en Café de El Salvador, the El Salvador chapter of the IWCA, was married to a coffee producer and became a widow very young. With three children and a big coffee farm to handle, she had to learn quickly and on the job. She has a strong will, is not afraid to say what she thinks, and doesn’t shy away from the truth.

Sonia took control of her farm and now, her coffees are Cup of Excellence winners. With amazing high quality coffee beans, she now exports to Europe and is very active in the coffee community. She is one of the top producers of the country and is very respected in the coffee community.

Pictured (Left to Right): Marcela Basagoitia, Lucia Ortiz, Lya de Castaneda, Maria Elena de Botto, Carmen de Silva and Margarita de Herrera of AMCES, the El Salvador chapter of IWCA.  

Pictured (Left to Right): Marcela Basagoitia, Lucia Ortiz, Lya de Castaneda, Maria Elena de Botto, Carmen de Silva and Margarita de Herrera of AMCES, the El Salvador chapter of IWCA.  

Carmen de Silva, secretary of AMCES, is an amazing woman. She is a top producer and has a “giving heart.” Carmen works a lot in her community, hosting lunch every Thursday for all the elderly persons of her coffee town who do not have anything to eat or can’t afford a good meal. Additionally, she owns a coffee mill that she not only envisioned, but made happen. Carmen is the one that gives faith and love to others and gives her strong will to her family of admiring women.

Lya de Castañeda, a member of AMCES, is an incredible example of what a woman can do. She is not only the daughter of a coffee producer, but she also married a coffee producer; she has literally grown up in coffee. However, Lya de Castañeda actually started a bakery at her house when she was young with other children in the area. Being a woman with impressive entrepreneurship, Lya learned how to diversify. She exports her coffee, and kept the bakery, which has become very well known. Now she has her own coffee brand (Bosque de Lya), creates coffee seeds covered with chocolate, and her latest project is coffee liqueur. Lya is a great example of what women can do!

Women of the Philippines: Princess Kumalah Sug-Elardo, Written by Pacita Juan, IWCA
Philippine Chapter

She thought she would retire soon as her children were almost finished with college. But one fateful visit to her birthplace, Panamao, Sulu, Princess Kumalah Sug-Elardo, now 62 years old, changed her both life and the lives of so many others. Four years ago, Princess Lalah, as she is known to many, saw how coffee was being dried and processed in her small town. The coffee was traditionally processed by spreading the drying coffee berries on the road and hoping that some vehicle would come and run them over to crack the shells and expose the coffee beans.

In one coffee summit organized by the non-profit Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. (PCBI), Princess Lalah learned that coffee is better off being harvested ripe and then washing it to get the best flavor. She went to work and first put a water line from the hills to her town. She did this “bayanihan” style (where villagers work together with no pay) and asked the members to chip in a few thousand peso savings so they could finally have water flowing in their taps.

In one year, Princess Lalah raised the incomes of the families from zero to P10,000 (USD $250) a year. Soon, more villages went into coffee harvesting with the motto “Pick Red.” Her coop would only buy red ripe cherries and would also buy civet droppings at a special price. Civet droppings come from wild civets who roam the Sulu forests. Civet has become a prized coffee selection that commands a premium price due to its exotic nature.

In 2012, Princess Lalah started to sell more coffee to Manila markets and also joined the IWCA Philippines chapter as a founding trustee. This opened her doors to more markets, both retail and wholesale. She also joined the Management Association of the Philippines Agri Business and Countryside Development (MAP-ABCDF) as a regular member. Through this organization Princess Lalah met businessmen who would be her benefactors and friends, buying her coffee and raising funds through projects such as buying generators and cable TV for her community.

Her town mates are busy harvesting and processing coffee and the men have put down their arms because Princess Lalah has shown them another way to live–peacefully and economically vibrant–through an import product called coffee.

One Woman from Burundi: My Story by Isabelle Sinamenye
As a woman in the coffee sector, I was designated to participate in the workshop of IWCA/ITC/AFCA, “Promoting Possibilities,” which was held in Kampala in 2009. I was the only one in my country to participate. 

A profit-splitting plan between the IWCA Burundi chapter, the local washing station owner and BD Imports provides a bonus payment to the IWCA members based on the coffee-selling price.

A profit-splitting plan between the IWCA Burundi chapter, the local washing station owner and BD Imports provides a bonus payment to the IWCA members based on the coffee-selling price.

When I came back home, I translated the “Country Chapter Development Manual” into French (our official language) to facilitate the socialization and teach what I had learned. After the establishment of our IWCA Burundi chapter, I was inspired by my work to find a viable project that would enhance the living standards of women members of the IWCA Burundi and help in producing coffee for their families. 

Our goal was to produce and sell top quality coffee. Through the IWCA connection, we found BD Imports, which bought twice the coffee from our members and it allowed us to distribute twice the bonus to members who have put together their coffees. We also partnered with Burundi Friends International and
110 IWCA members received two goats to fertilize their farms, and provide milk, and additional income for our families.

Through the bonus she earned from the IWCA Burundi chapter for selling her coffee, Mawazo was able to buy this bicycle.

Through the bonus she earned from the IWCA Burundi chapter for selling her coffee, Mawazo was able to buy this bicycle.

A profit-splitting plan was developed between IWCA Burundi, the local washing station owner, and BD Imports that provided a bonus payment to the IWCA Burundi members based on the coffee selling price. This year, Mawazo, one of the IWCA Burundi members, rode her bicycle to me and shared her story. “I was at my home when I heard about IWCA. I became an IWCA member in March 2013. I received 60,000 Fr Bu (approx. USD $40.00) as a bonus for the coffee I sold to the Karehe washing station. With that money I bought this bicycle. Now if my child is ill, I can take him to see the doctor on my bicycle.

I am grateful to the women of coffee who have shared their stories, either directly or through the voice of others. It has been my honor to share a few examples of the way that women change lives every day by coming together leading their quiet revolution from the seat of their bicycle.

Read the feature on Tea and Coffee Trade Journal's website.