In 2005, six women members of the CESMACH cooperative banded together in an effort to integrate more of the group’s women into educational workshops about coffee cultivation, and to highlight the contributions these women were making to the management and labor on their family farms while their husbands—many of whom had emigrated to the U.S.A. in search of work—held the official title of CESMACH “member” on paper. The women in that small revolutionary group realized that in order to create more equity among the group and empower their fellow women farmers, that practice and the leadership of the organization needed to change.
Within a year, the group had grown to 23 women heads of household and farmer owner/managers, all of whom had begun the process of transferring their memberships with CESMACH from their husbands’ names to their own. The women became an active and dynamic part of CESMACH’s leadership, and created a mark called Café Femenino in order to brand their coffee.
In 2011, Cafe Imports senior green-coffee buyer Piero Cristiani was sourcing coffees in Mexico with CESMACH and was intrigued by the number of women he saw delivering coffee for processing. He proposed the Women Coffee Producers program to the organization, incorporating the price premium per pound of green coffee purchased from the women members. Over the course of the program with CESMACH, the women have applied their premiums to projects like vegetable gardens, and health-care initiatives to fight the predominance of cervical cancer among the women.
Today, the cooperative has more than 225 women members, some of whom are widows, single mothers, private landowners, or women whose husbands have left Chiapas in search of work in the U.S. and Canada. CESMACH represents 32 communities within Sierra Madre, Chiapas, and each smallholder owns a plot of land that averages 4 hectares or fewer.