Colombia, July 2019

It’s hard being a farmer. 
It’s hard being a woman. 
Needless to say, being a farmer AND a woman comes with challenges.
However, when women come together to join forces they become stronger and positive change can happen. 

To address the gender inequity that exists in producing countries, Cafe Imports started  their Women Producers Program which pays a gender premium for coffees produced by members of female growers associations. For the past two years, small groups of women from the opposite end of the value chain have travelled with Cafe Imports to meet members participating in the program.

The two associations in the program in Colombia are AMACA and ASMUCAFE.
Girls Who Grind Coffee has purchased green beans from AMACA since our first year as a business. It’s been one of our favourite coffees so far. Being a member of AMACA means that the growers have access to a greater market than if they sold their coffees individually. Their main goal is to better their lives through coffee, and that is something we want to support. 

Why go to origin?

We’ve had many conversations at GWGC headquarters about origin trips and what their aim should be. The idea of going to farms, snapping a few romanticised pics of ourselves with farmers, and giving ourselves a pat on the back, is cringeworthy. 

We don’t want to deceive anyone (including ourselves) about the nature of our relationships with producers, especially after one visit. There are power dynamics that are easy to forget when you’re on a farm in a beautiful country with smiles all around, but these dynamics can’t be ignored. We come from the side of the industry with the power. We determine the definition of quality and how it’s measured, which determines the price the farmers get paid. We want women to be empowered through recognition and most of all, the price they deserve for their product. 

We are business partners. We would like to build trust and respect, and hopefully these things come in time. We don’t want to throw those words around loosely. When I asked the members of AMACA if they had a message for our customers, they said “Yes! Buy more of our coffee!” At the end of the day, buying more coffee, which creates income is the most important aspect of our relationship.

I considered this to be a great opportunity to be involved in a trip to origin with a deeper purpose which aligned to our own business values, providing both an opportunity to meet and enjoy experiences with members throughout our value chain, but also to begin to foster a long-term working partnerships that have the potential to result in changes to benefit all.   

AMACA (Asociación de Mujeres Productoras Agropecuarias del Cauca)

Visiting with AMACA did feel special. There is something to be said about meeting someone face to face and having that personal connection that can only happen with physical presence. It makes everything real and brings it full circle. We shared a big pot of coffee that I brought with me and it was pretty powerful sharing something that we all had a hand in creating and what had brought us all together in the first place.  

During our visits to members farms, we introduced ourselves and listened as the women described what it was like to be a member of the association as well as their concerns for the future. 

Some of the benefits of being a member of AMACA are:

  • Technical assistance to improve the quality of their farming.

  • Access to better pricing from the premium paid through the Women’s Producer Program. 

  • Through their partnership with exporters, Banexport, they have a minimum fixed price guarantee for their coffees that meet specialty standards. For the coffees that don’t meet that standard, Banexport purchase 10%of the total volume at specialty prices.

The concerns mentioned:

  • How to deal with climate change. Varietals that were successful in the past, are struggling with the change in weather patterns. New varietals need to be planted that can produce both the volume and the quality needed. 

  • The need for new drying beds. At the moment they are not permanent and are destroyed easily by wind. With new drying beds they can improve the quality of their coffee and experiment with different processes.

The effects of climate change are being felt across coffee growing regions around the world. Changes in weather patterns are causing droughts in some areas and more rainfall in others. These changes pave the way for pests such as the coffee berry borer and coffee leaf rust disease.

Members of AMACA are keen to tackle this issue as soon as possible, and rightly so. The livelihoods of 25 million coffee producers worldwide are under threat because of climate change and the insecure incomes that result. 

One of the ways the producers are tackling climate change is by planting fruit trees. The trees will have many benefits. They will enrich the soil with nitrogen, help protect the coffee crop and provide another source of income. Cafe Imports have provided the association with funding for this project. 

ASMUCAFE  (Asociación de Mujeres Agropecuarias de Uribe)

The women's mission as an association is to ‘improve their families' quality of life through coffee farming, and to contribute positively to their community by working together and sharing resources, knowledge, and support’.

Using premiums received from coffee as well as funding from the government, the group purchased a house to use as their headquarters. They have an office, a meeting space and a lab where they cup and members can perform quality control. These women are determined to better the quality of their coffee and their lives. They mean business and it shows.

They sell 2 containers of specialty coffee a year to Banexport, who they chose over another exporter because they are paid based on quality, not volume. When they first started selling to Banexport, only 25% of their coffees met specialty quality. They worked hard to improve and two years later, 65% of their crop reaches specialty standards. 

The most moving part of this visit was when the women described coffee as their ‘peace crop’. 5 years ago their area was a hotspot for conflict. The women have used coffee to bring out peace and development. They have shown how growing speciality coffee has had a positive impact on the community and their livelihoods. 

With access to funding, education and resources, ASMUCAFE has been able to improve the quality of their coffee and the livelihoods of its members. The women were truly inspiring and I can’t wait to see what they achieve in the future!

Women Producer Event 

Near the end of our trip, Cafe Imports and Banexport organised an event which brought together members of both associations for a day of education and celebration. During the event we all cupped the members coffees together. For some of the women, it was their first time cupping. They also had a chance to cup defects to get a better understanding of the impact on flavour. 

Members of our group, had the chance to present to the association, a little about our own businesses. I found this to be a great experience, as so often the flow of information goes in the opposite direction. 

Standing around our cupping tables in our roasteries and cafés, it’s easy to get stuck in a bubble and lose any connection to the coffee beyond our score sheets. It’s easy to forget that for some people, price crisis, climate change and a lack of resources to tackle these issues, is part of everyday life. These challenges can be even more difficult to face if you’re a woman. 

I can’t forget the fact that, on our end of the coffee value chain, we are privileged. We have the resources to make these trips to origin. Perhaps one day we’ll see more producers visiting consuming countries to do quality checks on our roasted and brewed coffees to make sure we’re doing their product proud.

This trip was a humbling experience. While it was enriching, it also highlighted the real issues that need to be faced. It’s made us at GWGC want to shout even more about all the women we work with, their achievements, and the barriers they face. 

We can’t wait to share the next lot of coffee we get in from these ladies with all of you!

Casey Lalonde
Head of Coffee / Girls Who Grind Coffee