As La Colombe CEO and Co-Founder Todd Carmichael said, “Without women, there would be no coffee.” It’s estimated that women make up to 70% of all coffee production at the farm level. This means your favorite morning brew was most planted by, harvested by, and tended by one of these amazing women.
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re introducing our new light-roast Aurora, a coffee blend produced entirely by 3 women-run coffee co-ops in Colombia, Rwanda, and Peru. Each co-op puts gender equity at the forefront of their mission, giving women coffee farmers the tools to learn, grow, and support their families while creating a strong example of female leadership for generations to come. Hear their story below.
Mujeres Cafeteras Cooperative (Colombia)
As co-op member Liliana Samboni Muñoz reflected, “thanks to the training and educational programs, I’ve learned technical skills to improve the quality of my coffee to achieve specialty coffee grade.” Mujeres Cafeteras is comprised of 303 women who grow coffee. The co-op utilizes its agricultural training program to educate members on technical skills in coffee harvesting, fermentation, and drying methods.
Mujeres Cafeteras also stresses education in business practices, teaching women at the co-op how to manage and administrate the association efficiently. With this wealth of knowledge and business opportunities, the women of the co-op are able to increase the quality of life for their families and grow their careers in coffee. “The biggest impact has been in our quality of life as a family,” said Muñoz, “before joining I didn’t have the right tools and skills to produce high-quality coffee.”
The co-op is working hard to set a good example as a group of women coffee leaders who also form the backbone of their families. By setting a good example, these women are helping to cultivate a new group of young female farmers who will help to continue the coffee farming tradition in the region. “By participating in the program, we’ve come to realize that coffee is something precious,” said co-op member Maria Eugenia, “We didn’t know before because no one had taught us. But the cooperative has become interested in us, the women.”
Union y Fe Cooperative (Peru)
Located in the heart of Peru, Union y Fe coffee co-op is aiming to become a leader in Peruvian coffee production. Instrumental to their vision is putting women at the forefront.
One of the ways the co-op has sought to distinguish itself in the market is through its micro-lot exclusively from women coffee growers called “Sumac Warmi” which means “Beautiful Women” in the local indigenous language. Sumac Warmi gives the co-op’s 32 women members the opportunity to be recognized and rewarded for the care and commitment to quality they provide to their coffee plants. “When you join the cooperative you learn that our coffee is being promoted as a high-quality coffee brand…produced exclusively by women,” said co-op member Lucia Mendis Tapullima Apagueño.
Joining the co-op helps these women not only receive the economic resources to develop and invest in their coffee production but also grow as leaders in their communities and strengthen their technical and administrative capacities for the sake of their families. “Being a part of the cooperative allows us to improve the economic well-being of our families by finding markets for our coffee,” said Apagueño. “The most rewarding moment of my work is obtaining the best cup quality based on all of my effort and dedication.”
Gashonga Cooperative (Rwanda)
The Gashonga cooperative was founded in 2009 when 85 Rwandan women coffee farmers pooled their resources to come together. Since then, the co-op has grown to 104 women, earned Fair Trade certification, and has been recognized on the international stage placing 7th in the Rwanda Cup of Excellence.
Gashonga exemplifies the strides in gender equality that have started to take Rwanda by storm (the country ranked in the top 5 in the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report). Co-op member Dative Mukansine has been with Gashonga from the start, working up the ranks in her 11 years in the coffee industry from casual laborer to being elected the President of the Board of Directors for the entire cooperative.
“I was (originally) occupied with agricultural activities to feed my children after my husband passed,” said Mukansine. “Since 2012, I was appointed as a Quality Controller. In 2014, after being interested in being a cooperative member, I decided to pay the membership fee. In 2019, I was elected to be the President of the Board of Directors of Gashonga Coffee Cooperative.”
Her journey with Gashonga has allowed her to care for her family by paying school tuition for her 5 children along with health insurance for 8 people in her family, while also being given shares in the cooperative and owning her own coffee plot.
Mukansine’s journey and Gashong’s success are both shining examples of the impact female entrepreneurs have on their community. It’s phenomenal how a small cup of coffee made by phenomenal women can make large strides towards gender equity.
Photos and interviews by Sustainable Harvest