by Jen Moore
Isabel La Torre knew they’d finally hit upon the right idea when women’s participation in the Central Coffee Organization of Northwestern Peru (CECANOR) more than doubled in less than three years.
For more than three decades, this vibrant Peruvian coffee marketer has been interested in addressing gender inequity on the farm. But after various attempts, putting a dollar value on women’s work is what has made a difference. Listen here:
Women make up 30% of the 25 million small scale coffee farmers in the world and Peru is a top producer of organic and specialty coffees. But while fair trade coffee provides important cash income to small farmers, with their husbands in charge women frequently never see a cheque, remain housebound after marriage and are highly vulnerable to domestic abuse.
Café Femenino is a brand of fair trade coffee produced and marketed from farm to roastery by women. It ensures that women farmers are direct actors in the home economy and coffee organization.
The first container of beans was shipped out of Chiclayo on the dusty northern coast of Peru in 2004. In 2007, Chiclayo hosted the first Latin American Meeting of women participating in Café Femenino initiatives from Colombia, Bolivia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
A cooperative effort, CECANOR worked closely together with Isabel’s coffee marketing group PROASSA to develop the idea with the Organic Products Trading Company in Vancouver, Washington (OPTCO). OPTCO buys all of the Café Femenino beans which it then distributes across North America.
But directly valuing women’s agricultural input is more than just a numbers game. Café Femenino is part of an integrated effort to transform gender relations within the coffee cooperative.
Leadership training and organizational participation gives women new opportunities to travel and to exercise their voice. And it pays off at the household level as women gain a greater role in decisions by effectively “earning their space,” as Isabel says, although she would be first to add that it is rightfully theirs to share.
More recently OPTCO established the Café Femenino Foundation which further extends the reach that this project is having. Through donations from northern coffee roasters and other interested contributors, local coffee producers have a new source of funds to which they can apply to help address other development issues that affect women’s health. Whether projects directly assist women through regular medical testing, or their communities through water quality studies, it is an exciting initiative and it is no accident that it is catching on.