June 9, 2015

Hidden Resources

Engaging Full Capabilities for Improved Outcomes in the Coffee Supply Chain

The global coffee market is expanding; consumption around the world continues to grow. Specialty coffee trends are generating enthusiasm and engaging a new pool of young consumers. At the same time, the industry faces significant risks to supply linked to climate change, plant disease, food insecurity, ageing farming populations and out-migration from farming communities, among other issues. Real concern exists that supply will not keep pace with market opportunities.

Fortunately, a hidden resource exists to help address these global problems: coffee’s women. The development sector has confirmed that social return on investment in women is high, and points to a competitive advantage held by those communities where women have the opportunity to contribute to their potential. However, throughout coffee-producing regions, women are overburdened with domestic and productive responsibilities, undervalued and lacking compensation for their work, and as a result, disenfranchised and disengaged from their desire and capability to fully contribute. In most coffee-producing communities, women do much of the work, yet it is predominantly men who have access to the land and resources and who are targeted for training investments.

As a result, the industry fails to capture the full benefit of the human potential in these communities. Furthermore, the negative consequences of this imbalance – such as domestic violence, alcoholism and lack of resources dedicated to education and healthcare for families – wreak havoc on not only short-term productivity and coffee quality, but the long-term health of coffee communities and, therefore, the coffee industry.

The global coffee industry can no longer afford to let these significant capabilities go to waste, as we try to resolve the monumental global challenges that threaten to disrupt the supply of quality coffee upon which our businesses thrive. Engaging the full capabilities of women and men in coffee producing communities and throughout the value chain will be what assures a sustainable coffee future.

A Partnership for Gender Equity

Coffee industry leaders agree that a more gender-sensitive approach is essential to ensure a sustainable supply chain. At the same time, it is recognised that more work is required before we can fully understand how to engage effectively on matters of gender equity.

To deepen a shared understanding of the subject, The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) recently launched a collaborative research initiative with industry and development partners. Through participatory workshops in four countries and an extensive literature review, the research will explore the link between coffee and gender in order to inform CQI’s strategic approach to gender, and encourage innovation in the coffee industry.

The first workshop was held 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 wellbeing. Building on this new understanding, the group discussed a vision for the future, what they wanted to achieve, and how to improve upon current conditions based on the gender analysis. The local participants agreed that the unique dialogue and new awareness was something that they wanted to share widely in their communities.

Following the first workshop in Colombia, others have been held in Nicaragua and Uganda with one more planned in Indonesia this year. Financial support for local participation by coffee farming men and women was been provided by COSURCA (Colombia), Keurig Green Mountain (Nicaragua) and the International Trade Centre (Uganda). The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) also made a contribution to the research through its Symposium program.

Outcomes from the four workshops will be analysed together with key data points from the literature review and industry input to form the basis of an academically based, industry-friendly report that will recommend additional research, partnerships, pilots and investments that can motivate coffee industry to take action on this important issue. A number of industry leaders have already pledged their support as founding partners, including non-profit ACDI VOCA, food manufacturer AMFOTEK, trader Falcon Commodities and global coffee beverage company MARS Drinks. Sustaining partners so far include Equal Exchange, Blue Bottle Coffee and Farmer Brothers.

Future Vision: Industry Collaboration to Engage All Capabilities Fully

In line with CQI’s commitment to quality coffee and the life of the people who produce it, the organisation is confident that gender sensitive approaches by the industry in coffee communities will underpin a more resilient supply chain. A diverse range of programs, activities and investments targeted to coffee’s women will encourage thriving coffee communities and a healthy coffee business far into the future.

Gender equity is a key link between the many sustainability issues and business issues – climate change, food security, health and education, disease mitigation, coffee quality and yields. These complex issues can be positively impacted when the industry works together, allowing a visible and equal place for women’s voice and position throughout the industry, with engagement of coffee communities’ full capabilities to work together to build a sustainable future for quality coffee and quality lives.

A segment on gender will be presented at this year’s SCAA Symposium in Seattle along with “Conversation Salons” that will foster dialogue among Symposium attendees.

CQI is currently seeking additional industry involvement, including funding partners for all stages of the initiative.

For more information see: or contact,

About the author
Kimberly Easson, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships | Gender Program Advisor Coffee Quality Institute.


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