Reducing the Gender Data Gap - IWCA Releases New Estimates

By Ruth Ann Church, Artisan Coffee Imports

Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer. "How many female coffee producers are there?" is one of these questions. A small group of women came together in 2015 under the umbrella of the International Women in Coffee Alliance (IWCA) to make answering this question the focus of their newly formed "IWCA Research Alliance." Via long-distance conference calls coordinated over multiple time zones, the committee announced last week the baseline estimates for four countries.

Estimates from the IWCA Research Alliance of female coffee producers by country:

Rwanda: 113,846, 32% of total

Costa Rica: 15,450, 34% of the total

El Salvador: 6,700, 33% of total

Guatemala: 4,000 - 7,000, 19 - 22% of total

(Sources detailed below.)

Simple, right? How hard could it be to track down four numbers? I found out it is way harder than one would think back in 2013 when I first tried to help the IWCA estimate its potential impact. The ICO does not track it. Neither does CQI, SCAA, SCAE, NCA, the World Bank, ACDI-VOCA, Technoseve nor any of the other international organizations one might think would be concerned with such estimates. But many national organizations do dedicate resources to understand the number of women in the coffee value chain. 

The IWCA Research Alliance recognized that fact and utilizes IWCA's uniquely well-suited volunteer structure for tackling this gender data gap. 


  • From Rwanda, IWCA's volunteer Zafarani Uwingabire, identified the number of female producers in the 2015 coffee census report published by Rwanda's National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), which was released in May 2016.

  • From Costa Rica, volunteer Gabriela Soto gathered the estimate from Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica (ICAFE). As is often the case in research, her "result" raised as many questions as it answered. How valid is this number? Does it include names of women who may be 'registered' as coffee farmers, but in reality are never on the farm? Does it include all the small producers, even if they are not registered? 

  • For Guatemala, volunteer Blanca Castro met with Anacafe and Luisa Fernanda Correa Mancia, one of Anacafe's technicians, shared their current estimates from two different sources. One, from the small producers organization put the percentage of women producers higher than the estimate from the database of registered producers during last harvest 2016/2017.

  • For El Salvador, volunteer Maria Botto, who is a coffee producer herself, dug into her own records from the Consejo (El Salvador's national extension group) to find the figures they published for 2013. The Consejo is in touch with Ms. Botto to share updated numbers later this year.

Acting as the platform in coffee focused on organizing, researching, training and empowering women in coffee, the IWCA has established legal chapters now in 20 producing countries. [Learn more about IWCA's 20 chapters here.] The organization proudly collaborates with many actors across the industry to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, 2017.

Celebrating The International Day of Rural Women

The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on October 15, 2008 and was established by the United Nations to recognize the critical contributions of rural women. This year, surrounded by the aroma of fresh coffee and the sights of cacao beans, the tireless women of the Costa Rica Chapter of the International Women Coffee Alliance (IWCA), along with the valuable cooperation of CoopeTarrazu, the Department of Agriculture (MAG) and the National Center for Women (INAMU), hosted the first ever Fair to celebrate the Rural Women's International Day in Costa Rica.  

Honored by the presence of more than 30 women farmers, representing communities from nearby Tarrazu, Perez Zeledon, and as far as Monteverde, Talamanca and Limon, these special women shared their farming experiences and lifted each others spirit with the solidarity that can only be found among women farmers.

Attendees heard stories of backbreaking work and sacrifice. From fishing, to coffee, and cacao farming the CoopeTarrazu warehouse was transformed into a showroom filled with the fruit of women’s labor.  Over 25 stands were present offering single origin coffees, hand made chocolates, farmer’s raincoats, aprons, leather, recycled artisan crafts, natural beauty products, and delicious recipes made with coffee and organic chocolate ingredients. The weekend celebration was a clear display of the undeniable spirit of entrepreneurship and strength of women. 

The (IWCA- Costa Rica Chapter) is proud to support women farmers, and to advocate for gender equality and work opportunities. Aside from their own coffee brand, Women’s Harvest, perhaps their most important achievement thus far was the creation of an International Certification designed to empower women, Women Care Certified.  This past weekend, CoopeTarrazu, one of the most progressive and successful cooperatives in Costa Rica, with over 1500 women members, recognized the efforts of the Alliance and the importance of Women Care Certified by committing to become the first Cooperative to be certified in the country. This is a remarkable step towards guaranteeing a gender equity policy and the empowerment of the women in this cooperative.  Along with the recent signing of the CoagroNevada cooperative in Colombia, the Certification is gaining momentum.

Reactivating El Salvador's Coffee Sector

In recent years coffee production in El Salvador has declined in the face of challenges like climate change, insecurity within the country, low coffee prices, and higher costs to maintain and process crops. In response to this crisis eight of the country's national coffee organizations convened to discuss how to reactivate the coffee sector, and in October of 2016 signed a memorandum of understanding addressing the Unity to Reactivate El Salvador Coffee Fields. 

The leaders recognized the urgent need to come together and address factors like economic growth and lack of opportunities and jobs. The following objectives were identified as the greatest needs:

1. Strengthen the Coffee Institution having a conciliation within coffee the organizations

2. Integrate the actors and/or entities needed to reactivate coffee industry.

3. Support the design of a strategic plan including the agricultural, economic and financial keys.

4. Create an adequate environment to allow funds for research, education and extension required by industry.

5. Promote high productivity of coffee plantations to guarantee offer of competitive good well known Salvadoran coffee quality.

6. Contribute to the Alliance for the Prosperity of the North Triangle attracting resources from International cooperates.

7. Create the necessary conditions to attract funds for the coffee industry investment and growth.

The organizations are engaging key stakeholders to help accomplish these goals, as they would have a large impact for the El Salvador's economy and overall coffee production and exporting.



IWCA Scholarship Success Stories

IWCA is a global peer network that advocates to empower women in coffee to achieve gender equity and sustainable lives. Through donations we are able to establish scholarship programs that provide women the opportunity to attend industry events and educational trainings. While these experiences have a powerful impact for the women who are selected, it also has a lasting impact for the communities where they live and work. In our Scholarship Stories posts you will hear women explain how these scholarships have been valuable to their professional growth in their own words. If you would like to contribute to future scholarships click here.


I was awarded my scholarship in 2015 for the IV Colombia Convention. Thanks to the scholarship, and first Female Barista All Stars event at the convention, I learned new techniques and different ways to approach customers from other female baristas

This knowledge has empowered me as a woman and motivated me to share my newly acquired techniques with other baristas in my country and coffee lovers. It was also enhanced by curricula and I had a promotion and additional recognition in my job. This action motivated me to start introducing my daughter to the barista profession.


I learned sustainability is of great relevance in coffee. Back at home in Guatemala I shared these concepts with my father, with whom I work. We include sustainability in our goals to preserve our legacy in the coffee farm. Thank you for investing in empowering women, soon we will exponentially flourish.


I was awarded the IWCA Scholarship in 2013 to attend the IWCA Guatemala Convention. Thanks to this event I learned I could improve in my mill process to start exporting and moving forward to direct trade. Now I am the president of Guatemala Chapter and I am very happy to work in my coffee project and share time with my coffee colleagues and contribute to the sustainability of the coffee industry.


I was lucky to be awarded a Scholarship for IWCA Colombia Convention in 2015. Participating in the First Female Barista Challenge in Bogota improved our barista skills and made me aware of the importance of knowing the origin of my coffee and started in my cafeteria, giving voice to every cup of coffee, teaching our customers about the hard work it takes to produce a coffee of excellent quality and inviting them to visit my farms. Now I am in the Honduras Chapter Board. And happy Charlotte Malval our Team leader in Colombia visited us in Honduras this 2016.

Margaret Mithamo (left) pictured with IWCA President Mery Santos

Margaret Mithamo (left) pictured with IWCA President Mery Santos


I was extremely happy to be awarded a scholarship to participate in the IWCA Convention in Colombia. I met the IWCA Board and set strong bonds with the Chapter Relations Committee. My biggest challenge is always in September, as it is our core coffee business month and we have to be able handle it all. So far, I am so grateful because my visit to Colombia has widely opened doors for IWCA Kenya. I am now close in collaboration with our coffee directorate, in proposed program collaboration with CQI and UTZs, and finally the current operation I am undertaking on behalf of Coffee Research Institute is targeting the women and youth farmers. I started a marketing millage at Colombia and we are still following up on it.


I was awarded  a scholarship in year 2015 for IWCA Colombia Convention. I learned the importance to share knowledge with other coffee colleagues. I also learned that I am an artist in the coffee chain and to put my heart into making every cup as a true treasure that the farmer gives me to share with my customers and coffee friends.

Back at home in Honduras, I decided to open a Coffee Academy with my family in Santa Barbara. I teach the techniques learned from our leader in Colombia and the coffee knowledge to thrive my students the passion of my coffee culture to multiply this love for coffee in them. At home I always serve my friends using a V60.

Maria Rosa Elena Romero with coffee that she roasted.

Maria Rosa Elena Romero with coffee that she roasted.


At the 2011 IWCA Convention in El Salvador, I had the opportunity to be awarded a scholarship. This close approach to IWCA made me aware of so many women involved in the coffee world and encouraged me to raise my voice for my coop. I also asked the bank for a loan to by a small farm and became a producer not only a staff at my coop. I also continue with my bakery for additional income for my family.

Now, I am also roasting coffee and distributing it to stores around my home town in Jucuapa, San Miguel. Thanks to the micro loan program from Earth Choice; I am able to buy printed packaging bags and to buy green coffee to roast.


Awarded a Scholarship 2015 IV IWCA Colombia Convention she learned about WOMEN CARE certification; finding it very appealing for Peruvian Chapter, and the Board of Directors agreed. Now, Rosa Maria has started contacts with Costa Rica Chapter to implement the Certification in Peru soon. As a Chapter President she and the Board assures to promote IWCA in Peru. At her work she promotes coffee with visits to farms.


I am truly grateful for the opportunity that has been given to me to be part of the IWCA 2015 in Colombia. It has opened great doors to me to continue inspiring others by passing on the passion in coffee and latte art. Being a barista and a teacher, I get to share my knowledge and experiences in IWCA, meeting all empowered women the coffee industry. We have proved that women have the same will and strength of a man with the desire for success and purpose to help others.