Facilitar el empoderamiento de las mujeres: el ejemplo del sector del café (en) (en)

15 mayo 2014
ITC Noticias

Speech by the Executive Director, ITC Women in the world of coffee:
Facilitating women’s empowerment – the coffee sector as an example
27 march 2014, Trieste


Introduction and thanks

I would like to start by thanking the Illy Foundation for the invitation to join this important event and their hospitality in welcoming me. I am enjoying the opportunity to exchange with so many people in the industry on this critical topic. The way this conference works, having industry lead the thinking on solutions to key development themes, is a model for how ITC would like to work in every sector.

I would also like to commend Illy for their foresight in inviting young women in coffee to this meeting, as mentees. I look forward to the arrival of Ms. Arnaulde Irangabiye, a talented young woman from Rwanda, who is one such participant in this programme. It is an inspiration to watch her starting what promises to be a long and influential career in the coffee industry.

My task today is to set the stage for why we all work on women’s economic empowerment, to give some examples from our work, to tie it directly to the issue of food security and to end with some questions which I hope will enrich the debate.

Why women’s economic empowerment

Why do we work on economic empowerment of women? Donor investments in women’s economic empowerment have remained flat and unchanged since 2007 – despite political statements that women’s economic empowerment is important. Gender-equality focused aid remains concentrated in the social sectors of education and health, with alarmingly low levels of aid targeted towards economic sectors. Only 2% of aid to the economic and productive sectors targeted gender equality as its principle objective. We believe this does not make sense for development. I would like to briefly re-emphasize three points I made in February in New York at a meeting on the future development agenda of the United Nations, on why ITC believes in the economic empowerment of women is a driver for development:

Overall human development requires economic development.
The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon has observed that inclusive economic growth is a prerequisite for achieving the MDGs, particularly eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Without sustainable and inclusive growth, without jobs, the achievements we make in health, education, peace and security will not be sustainable.

Women constitute the majority of the poor and an engine for entrepreneurship. Women must be an integral part of eliminating poverty as they constitute the majority of the poor. At ITC, we focus on entrepreneurs – on helping small and medium sized enterprises in developing countries succeed in trade – because small and medium sized enterprises are the main source of jobs. Across the developed and the developing world SMEs account for almost 80% of jobs. Increasing entrepreneurs’ success increases jobs. 8-10 million of these SMEs are women-owned, often representing close to 40% of total SMEs. In some of these countries these firms are growing at faster rates than those owned by men. A key part of economic development is therefore helping foster women’s entrepreneurship.

Women invest more in creating jobs and in the family. Women’s economic empowerment must be an integral part of our agenda not only because it generates employment but because women reinvest up to 90% of their earnings in the family, linking trade to development. The kinds of inequalities described in detail today, in terms of access to and control over resources, including those needed to build productive capacities, are what we need to tackle to realise gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. 

How ITC works to empower women in the coffee sector

I want to bring this down now to something close to home for this gathering, empowering women in the coffee sector. I will focus my remarks on examples from Africa, but many of you can bring examples from your work in Latin America and Asia.

First, let there be no doubt about the positive return on investment in working with women in the coffee sector. Industry asked our partner Hivos, a Dutch NGO, to provide them a business case they could take to their management to support working with women. In a sample of for programmes in Africa with a gender component, they found increases in productivity of 40%, improvements in incomes of up to 100% and increased quality. The International Women’s Coffee Alliance have identified increases of 23% in premium quality coffee production. Hivos also found anecdotal evidence of reductions in domestic violence and other benefits.

As with all of our work, ITC works with partners to create change at the level of the farm, the industry and at the national level.

Improving the enabling environment. Our work often begins at the national level in trying to improve the environment for women. For instance, we worked with the government of Uganda in the development of their national export strategy from a gender perspective. This included sector specific work in coffee, where in addition to looking at the product, we examined impediments to women’s success along the coffee value chain. We have applied this methodology to identify specific issues faced by women in coffee in strategies developed for Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and on regional work in Central Africa. I have just visited Burundi, where we plan to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to formulate a strategy to develop the sector to improve the return to Burundian farmers on investments in coffee and other on-farm activities. Here the focus is on advocating for equal access for women and men to services such as agricultural extension, improving property law where needed to better facilitate women’s access to an d ownership of, for instance, own land and finance.

Organizing women to help each other. ITC has worked with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) to establish associations of women in coffee in Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda and last month I had the pleasure of launching a chapter for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The DRC chapter alone brings together more than 500 talented women from all parts of the value chain. Across chapters, these include exporters, technical specialists such as quality graders, and farmers-who become support networks. In Burundi, one of the members, an exporter who owns a washing station, will lead a project providing assistance to women farmers. This also becomes a vehicle for industry, government, NGOs such as Kahawatu in Burundi, and donors to provide services and make business linkages.

Building women’s confidence and capacity. Once organized, women demand practical training on how to increase quality and productivity. For farmers this means improving not only coffee but also other sources of income on the farm. We connect them with training, whether from ITC or through programmes already on the ground-for instance government extension-which often fail to include women. As important, as leaders emerge in these groups, we work with IWCA to provide leadership training. From our original work with IWCA chapters in Africa in 2009 to the African Fine Coffees Association Conference and Exhibition this year, the difference is remarkable. These women are confident, persuasive and they know how to exchange with buyers. This is also what bringing these impressive young women like Arnaulde is about - developing women leaders.

Improving the dynamic between men and women in coffee farming families.
An increasing number of programmes recognize that for women to be empowered, the whole family-including the men-must understand and support the process. This means working with men and women to define joint goals, to build trust and to make decisions on the business jointly. One of the target outcomes is to improve women’s access to funds and control over decision-making, and a rapid improvement in output and income. This ‘happy coffee families’ approach is a major part of a joint programme ITC has developed with Hivos, AFCA and 4C that AFCA introduced at a workshop on women in coffee in February in Bujumbura.

Connecting women to markets and making sure they are paid.
At the 2012 meeting of the Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum the women of the Burundi Chapter met with buyers and signed letters of intent to engage in trade relationships. As a result chapter members in Burundi sold over USD1m in coffee and relationships have continued to grow. This sale has contributed not only to increasing women’s incomes, but in gaining the respect and encouragement of the men in their community, to do better. As important, the money went directly to the women. We have made such linkages during events in Mexico, China and are preparing for a buyer / mentor group bring women together with buyers on the margins of the Specialty Coffee Association of American (SCAA) Conference being held in Seattle Washington next month. ITC is pleased to offer a select group of high growth potential businesswomen in the coffee sector opportunities to explore potential business matches with small to large coffee buyers.

Later this year, 16 -17 September in Kigali, Rwanda, ITC is organising the third Women Vendors Exhibition and Forum that this year will focus on bringing buyers and sellers together in only two sectors: Coffee and services. This provides a unique opportunity for women in coffee to apply for selection to meet buyers. Meg Jones from our Women and Trade team (Meg stands up) will make further information available to you over the course of the conference.

And ITC does not do this only in coffee. With the help of UKAid, ITC is also helping women cotton farmers to diversify their sources of income in partnership with the Cotton Association of Zambia. We also have projects supporting women in billum in Papua New Guinea, and building supply-side capacity in Palestine, Samoa and Vanuatu. These are in addition to projects under development in textiles and garments in Ethiopia and Mongolia and a project to develop women’s entrepreneurial skills to be rolled out in Latin America.

How does this relate to food security?

Let’s leave aside for a minute the broader work we do, and focus on food security and work at the farm level. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines food security as the physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet one’s dietary needs. It is not just about food you grow, but about income to buy food-throughout the year.

Coffee is seasonal and leads to swings in family income. This means many farmers can be subject to food insecurity in the off-season. This occurs in the Least Developed Countries of Africa, but also in what we consider more advanced regions such as Central America. Though there is a need for more data, a range of studies focusing on Latin America found that between 31% and 100% of households across Central America, Mexico and the Dominican Republic suffer from some sort of food insecurity throughout the year. We have also seen this as a major concern for Burundian women who are suffering from low coffee yields, low prices due to poor quality and have very small plots for growing their own food.

Solutions to food insecurity for coffee families address some of the same underlying issues we deal with in other sectors, but it is important to we bring them out again and think about how they can be adapted to the coffee sector in particular:

  • Improve quality and volume to increase income. Access to food is not just about growing food, but also about having adequate income to buy food. For our work in Africa, improving yield and quality through basic good agricultural practices for coffee, basic pruning, and basic post-harvest can immediately improve incomes by 20% or more. Direct contact with buyers can also allow farmers to increase value through direct access to specialty markets. Where a farmer is more sophisticated, this can even extend to micro-milling in places like Costa Rica. Certification, we have found, is more complex-with returns to certification sometimes not justifying the costs and the proliferation of standards raising transaction costs for farmers and exporters.
  • Help coffee growers develop other sources of income and food. Diversification of sources of income can reduce farmers’ exposure to risk and make them better able to survive market movements. Income is important, but many also believe this should include food production for consumption as an ultimate buffer against volatility. This can also include such things as developing a catering business, as many have done in Burundi with the help of Sucafina or small canning businesses as we often see in West Africa.
  • Provide technical assistance in good agricultural practices and post-harvest handling outside coffee. This includes basic good agriculture, adapted to the farmers surroundings and access to inputs, and improved practices for storage, decreasing food waste. Better handling of food can help reduce post-harvest losses of more than 30% we see in most of the markets where we work.

Of course, for any of this to have a significant impact, we need to get to scale. Even in Africa, where we do most of our work, there are more than 10 million coffee farmers who are disproportionately poor and isolated.

To get to scale, we will need broad partnerships between industry, government, international organizations and NGOs. That means working together, at conferences like this, to raise awareness among consumers and the industry of the effects of market volatility on farmers. Critical in this process is that we make claims that are evidence-based and that we recognize farmers- particularly women farmers - as economic actors. ITC is committed to continue to collect sex disaggregated data and to build the case at all levels for broad assistance to coffee farmers and in particular how this affects women with recommendations on addressing their specific needs. We are also entering into broad partnership with industry through the 4C association and other mechanism to address how to better target interventions to women and how to make certification more accessible.

Questions for discussion

I wanted to end by putting out some questions to enrich the dialogue:

  • Together, what can we do to collect more sex-disaggregated data on food insecurity among farmers, particularly female-headed farming households?
  • How can we reach scale in working with farmers?
  • What role would you like ITC and like organizations to play in the future?