Gender Equity in Coffee

If you are involved in coffee, it is not news to you that the industry today faces an array of challenges—including climate change, plant disease, food insecurity, producer community out-migration, among others—that threaten the livelihoods of farmers and the supply of quality coffee required by roasters and retailers. But on top of these issues lies another, less talked-about challenge faced throughout much of the developing world: how to empower women within their communities.

The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) has launched a new project, the Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE), aimed at better understanding gender concerns at origin and how CQI and other industry members can help address them. The collaborative research initiative includes participatory workshops in four countries, as well as an extensive literature review, to produce a final report containing recommendations for action, including further areas for study, pilot projects, and investments.

Why focus on gender equity now?
With so many difficult and urgent issues to address in the industry, one might question whether committing resources to gender equality at this time is a priority.

“Because of the scale of our challenges, I believe we can’t afford not to focus on gender equity,” said David Roche, CQI’s Executive Director. “Experience around the world demonstrates the positive impacts of empowering women in agricultural communities and indicates a clear opportunity to strengthen the coffee supply chain – to make it more resilient in the face of adversity. This fits the mission of CQI: to improve both the quality of coffee and the lives of those who produce it.”

The promise of empowering women in developing economies, the high return on investment, is so well documented that most government and NGO development organizations now require a gender equity component for development programs. Yet there remains an opportunity to develop specific approaches for coffee-producing communities to encourage and capitalize on improved gender equity. And members of the industry need guidance on how they can support that effort throughout the value chain.

“There has been quite a bit of enthusiasm and support for the initiative. It is clear that the coffee industry is looking for some direction. They know it is important to address gender equity, but don’t know the ‘how’,” commented CQI’s VP of Strategic Partnerships Kimberly Easson. “The Partnership for Gender Equity aims to provide us with an informed approach to tapping into the full capabilities of both men and women in coffee growing communities – and importantly, an approach developed collaboratively with members of those communities.”

Developing a producer-based perspective
The first interactive gender workshop was held in October 2014 in Popayan, Colombia with 34 local men and women farmers and six international industry participants. Together they explored the balance of power in community and supply chain relationships, the relative share of work and income, and other dynamics that influence the well-being of communities and hence, the health of the coffee supply chain. Through the workshop exercises, participants gained new perspectives about the value of women’s work and the importance of making shared decisions on issues that impact family well-being. Building on this new understanding, the group discussed a vision for the future, and how to improve upon current conditions based on the gender analysis.

Future workshops are scheduled for Nicaragua in January 2015, Uganda in February, and Indonesia later in the year.

Industry participation for success
ACDI/VOCA, the respected global development organization and a leader in inclusive market development, recently committed to becoming a founding partner for CQI’s gender initiative, bringing both core funding and a combined expertise in strengthening coffee value chains and increasing gender equity in households, communities and markets around the world. Additionally, AMFOTEK, a developer and manufacturer of premium coffee and other beverages and a 100% woman-owned business enterprise (WBE) based outside of Chicago, has signed on as a founding partner.

CQI continues to invite involvement in the initiative through funding opportunities and workshop participation. Interested industry members should contact Kimberly Easson at

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