Women are the future of coffee

September 29, 2018

Women in Kenya’s Tharaka Nithi County have been winning! Winning in a field that has been dominated by their male counterparts. Welcome to the world of coffee in Kenya.

Kenya’s rise to fame in the global coffee market was fuelled by the production of its blend of coffee. Known for its unique flavor, the country made it among the top 30 countries most sought after by coffee lovers in the world in 2014.

However this novelty was marked by a labor-intensive work force that is dominated by women. While they undertake majority of maintenance of the coffee trees and harvesting, most women have no say when it comes to trading, marketing and negotiating the terms in the sales of their coffee cherries. Worse still, very few women own land and sadly, some communities limit their land ownership rights due to their sex. In fact, coffee is known as a ‘male-crop’ in Kenya.

Despite these looming inequalities, a handful of global coffee giants have attempted to take an active role in enabling a value chain where the rights of women are recognised.

This is why the tides  seem to be shifting at the heart of Chuka Constituency in Tharaka Nithi County. A group of women from the Kabuboni Farmers Cooperative Society seem undeterred by this harsh reality. Armed with the agenda of influencing the future of coffee in Kenya, they continue to prove that improving the lives of women begins by one coffee cherry at a time.

This resolve was sparked by a unique approach in coffee farming. Dubbed: The Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS), it influences cooperation between men and women in the coffee farms in an effort to advance gender justice in the value chain.

Spearheaded by Hivos and ECOM Limited, women and men have been trained to use the GALS approach in planning for their households to ensure that there is equity in labour provision, income from selling coffee cherries and uptake of leadership positions in coffee cooperatives. Further GALS involves visioning, participatory decision making and employing sustainable strategies to increase income, economic choices and negotiation power in running a household. This is all with an intention of enabling vulnerable women to take up their rightful positions in society so as to improve gender relations.

The road to the birth of the Kabuboni Women and Youth (KAWAYO) initiative began in 2016 after being trained on GALS. During trainings, the women and youth realized that there is a future in coffee despite male dominance in the value chain. They were encouraged to work jointly with the men at the household level to realize their dreams. One time in a meeting, the women approached the men to allocate 50 coffee trees that they would tend in order to test the new model and get proceeds.

The efforts would later see Hivos and SMS Ltd support the KAWAYO initiative through integration of good agricultural practices that went into provision of resources necessary for boosting the production of coffee such as: knapsacks, secateurs, pruning saws, pesticides and fertilizers. The group was quite innovative such that they decided to convert the inputs into a revolving fund, where each person who received the input was to pay back with no interest to ensure others are able to acquire the same.

September 2018 marked the dawn of a new beginning for the KAWAYO initiative. After harvesting 500kg of coffee berries, the Dormans Coffee brand (a roaster) took interest in milling 50kg of the roasted coffee and later entered into a partnership with the initiative to boost women’s entrepreneurship.

This International Coffee Day celebrated every year on 1 October , we pay homage to KAWAYO initiative and recognize the steps they have  taken to ensure that the future of coffee is characterised by equity, equality and female-leadership. Such wins continue to prove that indeed it’s possible to address systemic ills in the coffee sector for women to also benefit!

Grab your cup today in support of women’s contribution in the coffee value chain.

About 4S@Scale Program

Hivos and ECOM Agroindustrial Corporation in East Africa have teamed up in a public‑private partnership. ECOM is one of the world’s largest commodity trading and processing companies in coffee and provides technical support to smallholder coffee farmers. Together we will create viable coffee-based farming systems by intensifying and expanding ongoing support to women and youth coffee farmers using Good Agricultural Practices and climate adaptation methods. Farming households will also be helped to diversify their income through commercial dairy and biogas activities.