Women Coffee Producers Trip 2019

Posted on July 12th, 2019

The average farm in southern Colombia is less than 3 hectares in size but still requires countless hours of backbreaking work to manage. While it’s hard enough to grow coffee under any conditions—especially these days, with the global coffee market at historic lows and climate change affecting crops worldwide—it’s especially hard to be a woman coffee producer, period.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America has stated that in a study of 15 coffee-growing countries, “women comprised an average of 70 percent of the workforce in the fieldwork and harvesting roles.” That’s planting, pruning, picking, and processing. Despite their heavy participation in the farm labor, women represent less than 1 percent of the world’s legal landowners: Many go unpaid or unrecognized as the caretakers on land owned by a father, brother, husband, or son who might be living, deceased, or frankly gone from sight. It’s not for lack of interest or lack of passion for coffee: Many governments still don’t recognize land ownership or transfer to women, many banks will not extend credit to women, and many cooperatives still will not recognize a woman as a member independent of a husband or father.
These startling facts are what has inspired the Cafe Imports Women Coffee Producers Program: Our green-coffee buyers seek out associations of women or subgroups of women within coed coffee-growers organizations, purchasing their 84–87-point lots separately with a gender-equity premium per pound above the quality premium we already pay for Regional Select–quality coffee.
The project started with a cooperative in Guatemala called CODECH, and has expanded to nearly 10 associations in five countries: Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Indonesia. In the past five years, interest in and demand for coffees from the Women Coffee Producers has skyrocketed, which has allowed us to find other opportunities to combat the gender gap in coffee production. One new way we have found to engage directly with women in coffee-growing communities is in organizing and hosting a Resource trip specifically to connect women who are normally considered at “opposite” ends of the supply chain: For the past two years, we have brought groups of non-male-identified roasters, green-coffee buyers, and baristas to meet and exchange ideas with the women of AMACA and ASMUCAFE, two strong associations of women in Cauca, Colombia. This year’s group trip was led by Sam Miller, sourcing liaison for Cafe Imports, who has been traveling to Colombia for years in search of great coffee and strong relationships. Co-leading were women from various Cafe Imports offices: Cafe Imports Europe’s Simone König, Oxcart Coffee’s Francine Ramirez, Cafe Imports Australia’s Julie Kerr, and Cafe Imports North America’s Nicole Good, as well as a handful of female roasters, a barista, and even a journalist from across the U.S.A., Europe, and Australia. (Resident Cafe Imports photographer Victor Pagán capture the spirit as well.)
On the first full day in Cauca, the group visited with representatives of AMACA (Asociación de Mujeres Productoras Agropecuarias del Cauca), which is the older of the organizations: It was founded in 1999 and currently has between 100 and 140 producer members who are delivering coffee cherry that the leadership considered good-enough quality to represent the work of the whole association.
“I would join AMACA. They have a general pride about their coffee and the town that they’re from, and that’s something innately present in [many] associations, but AMACA has their own thing going in terms of where their pride comes from, and their own little culture in that,” says Sam. “Being around them and spending time with them just feels great. You know how being around focused, good-hearted people feels good? That’s how it is with them.”
Green-buyer’s associate Francine Ramirez was just as impressed with ASMUCAFE (Asociación de Mujeres Agropecuarias de Uribe), with whom they spent the second full day of the tour: Francine visited both cooperatives on last year’s trip, too, and remarked that ASMUCAFE has radically improved its quality focus even in the course of those 12 months.
“It was amazing last year compared to this year,” she says. “I saw a screen sorter, and they have a humidity reader, and now they’re doing studies for the samples for the members—how much percentage of 100 grams is 14/15 screen size, and so on. Members bring their own samples to the office at ASMUCAFE, and since they’re bringing them in parchment they also now have a huller for samples. They read the humidity, and if it’s not ready they say, ‘Oh, it needs one more day at the patio,’ or they make a recommendation. It’s a huge improvement! It’s amazing because I sense that the next step for them is to buy a sample roaster and start doing cuppings and tastings.”
Cupping was one of the major focuses of this particular trip: Like many coffee growers worldwide, the women of AMACA and ASMUCAFE have had limited if any exposure to the cupping process, which is something our group set out to correct. Sam collaborated with Banexport’s team of cuppers and warehouse managers to arrange an all-day cupping exercise that could be shared among the women producers and the roasters and baristas on the trip. About 20 members of ASMUCAFE and 25 from AMACA arrived to the Banexport warehouse and cupping labs in Popayán, where they shared a meal and spent most of a day together learning and sharing. The group experienced several rounds of coffee cupping, including a demonstration for AMACA and ASMUCAFE to watch and learn the process; an opportunity to cup through both association’s coffees; and a tasting of commonly found defects, which were offered in water-based solutions using sensory-analysis flavor tablets.
“Basically they got to watch and observe a cupping, the whole thing all the way through to when we sat down and discussed the scores and the cupping notes in Spanish. We revealed them: ‘This coffee is 86 points and it’s from…AMACA!’ Everyone was proud and excited,” Sam says.
After the trip, Casey Lalonde, cofounder of Girls Who Grind Coffee, reflected that the cuppings seemed like a valuable exercise, but she says, “I was a little surprised that it was the first time cupping for some of the growers.” During the trip, she exchanged contact information with a few of the producers and asked them what they thought of the cupping. One of the farmers, Yeny, replied: “By trying the coffee flaws, we realized what we have to do to improve and pay more attention to our crops to provide a better cup of coffee. It is clear that it is not only the crops but the entire process that is done from the planting to the sale that can have an effect on the cup. It was very useful because trying and experiencing things makes it clearer.”
Everyone we spoke with after the trip mentioned that perhaps the most powerful moment of the week they spent together was when the Cafe Imports group visitors took the time to stand up before the women coffee growers to introduce their companies, talk about the obstacles that they’ve faced as women in specialty coffee, and to share their feelings as they looked out over the room of dedicated producers—people as passionate about coffee as they are.
“We had at the same time a feeling of sorority,” Francine says. “Farmers and roasters sharing this great experience through coffee—being able to know them, to know their realities for them. It was incredible.”
Lisa Lawson, founder of Dear Green Coffee in Glasgow, Scotland, also felt the power: “Being a female business owner, I know of the hurdles of living and working in a man’s world without the added challenges of being in a developing country,” she says. “Daiba Miladay’s farm (La Cascada) story was incredible for me. She started her farm from nothing, received loans, and has ambitious yet achievable targets. Her husband sold his grandparents’ land to help fund her farm, and her father was heling to look after her children. Daiba said she ‘started from nothing and achieved a lot,’ and this really rung true with me as I have done the similar in a different part of the industry, in a different part of the world.”
The benefits of buying women-produced coffee through this and other programs have an incredible value beyond just the branding, and even beyond the flavor in the cup–though we are lucky to work with such quality-driven growers. “My customers love it when I buy coffee that is produced by women and has a strong traceability,” says Lucy Ward, head green-coffee buyer for St. Ali Roasters in Melbourne, Australia. “I personally believe that investing in women invests in the future. This is simply because investing in women invests in the education of children, and, more indirectly, the surrounding community.”
Click below for more information about the Women Coffee Producers Program and to browse our offerings of coffees that are purchased with a gender-equity premium. For another great blog post about the trip, head over to Dear Green for founder Lisa Lawson’s reflections from her time in Cauca: https://www.deargreencoffee.com/blogs/news/colombia-field-notes-from-origin