With the help of organic and fair trade premiums, much has been accomplished in the rural communities of coffee-producing countries, from improvement in the local economies, better diets, improved sanitation and new wet-processing mills for green coffee beans. However, the marginalization of women in these rural communities continues. In the urban areas of Peru, for example, the abuse rate is estimated at 40% and in the rural communities the rate is far greater.
With little money to count on, a coffee family generally prefers to invest available resources in educating the sons. The daughters stay home and devote themselves to chores around the house and tending the farm. They usually marry at a young age and are only allowed to participate in the domestic work of the home. Their participation in work groups has traditionally been in a passive role. Until now.
In 2003, the first conference of Women Coffee Producers was held in Northern Peru. The concept of separating these women producers' coffee from the rest of the fair trade co-op's production was a new idea, developed by the fair trade co-op, their organic coffee trading partners, and the women themselves, searching for ideas that would improve their living conditions. The women's conference focuses on building self-confidence, leadership skills, and sharing experiences. The women's response to these organizational activities has been amazing, as has the support offered by community leaders.
The coffee buyer for PROASSA (an organic coffee trading company in Peru), who travels to the producing regions and works with the growers on a regular basis, is a woman named Isabel Latorre and the first agronomist sent by PROASSA to educate the farmers in organic agriculture was also a woman, Maria Chubas. They are both setting examples for these communities and their leadership has helped to pave the way for other talented women within the co-op.
There are currently well over 1000 women coffee farmers involved with the Cafe Femenino Coffee Project in Peru. The women farmers participate in all farm activities: preparing the terrain, tending the seedling nurseries, creating compost to fertilize the soil, as well as harvesting, de-pulping, fermenting, and drying the coffee. It is very rare for women to participate in selling coffee or in deciding how the money from coffee sales will be used - all of which they do with Cafe Femenino.
Once the coffee leaves the co-op, all sales contracts for Cafe Femenino must be signed and committed to by a woman, and a woman must participate in the sales and marketing of this coffee. An extra two cents per pound above the fair trade price for green coffee is paid by the US importer of Cafe Femenino, and these funds provide income that goes directly to the women producers - the use of this money is for them alone to decide.
Grounds for Change donates an additional 10 cents for each pound of Cafe Femenino sold directly back to this women's coffee growing project to fund annual grants requested by the members. This year, thanks to the continuing support of our customers, we helped to sponsor the Early Education Center Pilot Program in seventeen communities that supply coffee for Cafe Femenino. The focus is on monitoring and reducing malnutrition by educating teachers, parents and students on the nutritional value of local foods and how to incorporate them into the daily diet. This the grant funds will be providing additional workshops available to leaders and residents of the communities.
We hope that you will take this concept to heart, share the story as well as the coffee, and be a part of something that can change the lives and futures of many women.