Heeding the Call for More Research on Women in Coffee
by Ruth Ann Church, IWCA Global Board of Directors, Research & Impact Assessment
In 2008 - 2009, the International Trade Center (ITC) of the United Nations, set up a bold effort with its partner, the East African Fine Coffee Association, (now called the Africa Fine Coffee Association or AFCA), to try to put a "statistical" stake in the ground on women in the coffee sector. Jointly, they decided to find out what was already known or could be estimated easily about three key indicators:
- women's participation in growing and harvesting coffee, and
- women's ownership of the land where they work
- women's participation in the work of selling coffee on domestic or international markets.
One of the key results of the study was a confirmation of the need for more research to understand the role of women in coffee.
"There is very little information and next to no hard data available on the role of women in the coffee sector in coffee producing countries." (ITC & EAFCA, 2009, pg1)
In other words, shockingly little was known about the role of women in coffee, even in countries with decades long histories of trading the valuable commodity. The interviews with 25 people (mostly women) from 15 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America could only verify that there is no easy way to summarize women’s contributions.
"women's role in the workforce varies significantly, from one country to another or even within the same country." (ITC, 2008, pg33)
The above two quotes, in this author's opinion, are the most important findings of the research. They constitute a rallying cry to the coffee industry, which is searching for ways to battle climate change, leaf rust and an aging farmer population. Shifting coffee onto a more sustainable track for the future will require revisions to industry structures to provide for this vitally important stakeholder group - the women.
IWCA Research Alliance Heeds The Call
The IWCA, a partner mentioned often by the ITC back in 2008 and since, has made some small steps towards gathering and encouraging research suggested by the report. The Research Alliance, is a network of women in research in coffee producing countries that comes together to support each other, and support projects to eliminate the gender data gap. The Alliance has two main achievements to date. Both relate directly to the ITC's charge to gather statistics and publish more studies on the role of women in coffee. A project to collect estimates of the population of female coffee producers in each of the 20 producing countries that have IWCA chapters has so far collected and published estimates from seven countries:
Table 1: Estimates from the IWCA Research Alliance of Female Coffee Producers by Country
The second achievement of the Research Alliance is the publication of an e-book by the IWCA chapter in Brazil, the group's largest chapter. The chapter leaders and members in Brazil were shocked and disappointed by reports and articles, including the ITC report discussed here, that state, "there is a very low percentage of women in fieldwork and harvest in Brazil, ...as farming there is highly mechanized." The women of Brazil's coffee industry were galvanized by this statement to share the important contributions of Brazil's women to its coffee sector. They have achieved this by organizing to publish an e-book on women in coffee in Brazil, published December 2017, by an impressive effort of over 40 researchers from 11 institutions from across the country.
Read about both of these achievements in a July 2017 blogpost of the National Coffee Alliance (NCA).
At the IWCA's August 2017 convention in Puebla, Mexico, the work of the Research Alliance was presented, as well as excerpts from Brazil's e-book, alongside research from 2016 from Rwanda (and the Feed the Future Africa Great Lakes Coffee Support Program) and recent learnings from the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros in Colombia.
Also, this March 2018 report, written by Tanya Newton for the Perfect Daily Grind, mentions both ITC's work and IWCA’s efforts, and then an appropriate comment about the need for more credible data to guide the coffee industry.
Ten year's down the road, we can safely say that the ITC's 2008 report was a watershed moment bringing attention to the issues of women in coffee, and the lack of credible data on women’s roles in producing countries. The core message of the report is as dire and needed today as it was 10 years ago. Also, this quote from the ITC's Patricia Francis, Executive Director in 2008, remains true:
"without women, trade generates dollars, but not balanced development." (ITC, International Trade Forum, Issue 3&4, pg. 3)
Sources for IWCA Research Alliance Table 1 above: 2013 estimates from Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica (ICAFE) in Costa Rica; 2013 estimates from the Consejo in El Salvador; 2016/2017 estimates from Anacafe (Guatemala); 2013 report from the Instituto Hondurevo del Café (ICAFE) Registro Nacional de Productores; Recensement General des Cafeiers Edition 2006-2007, from Institute de Statistiques Et D’Etudes Economiques du Burundi, (ISTEEBU); 2015 Coffee Census published by Rwanda's National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), released May 2016; Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC).
- International Trade Commission and East Africa Coffee Association, 2009, "Women in the Coffee Sector", report.
- International Trade Commission, 2008, International Trade Forum, Issue 3 & 4. http://www.tradeforum.org/Women-in-Coffee/