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Kimberly Easson, v.p. of strategic partnerships and gender program advisor at Coffee Quality Institute.
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Paineto Baluku, managing director of Bukonzo Co-operativeUnion, and Katherine Nolte, coffee marketer and marketingadvisor for Twin present at Symposium 2015.
By Jenny Neill
The Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual exposition has long been a forum where non-governmental organizers can mix it up with many others involved in producing, exporting, importing, transporting, or selling coffee.
The International Women’s Coffee Alliance continues to host an annual breakfast at SCAA. Grounds for Health, an organization dedicated to providing gynecological screenings for women, again had a booth in the exposition this year. Many other organizations have sent representatives to participate in North America’s biggest specialty coffee event. Fairtrade International and Women for Women International are just two of many examples.
At SCAA, the well being of women and children have been part of the conversation about social and cultural aid for years. Often, such discussions revolve around concern for food, water, and personal security at origin but stop short of accounting in a meaningful way for what women actually do. They often gloss over the realities that women often have little legal or actual authority over resources.
Still, something seems to be shifting this year and it started during the symposium. The session titled “Gender Equity: Can Shifting our Focus Improve the Coffee Supply Chain?” was well attended.
The first speaker, Lorena Aguilar, global senior gender adviser in the International Union for Conservation of Nature, provided a broad context for why governments, non-government organizations, and businesses would do better by seeking out and listening to women. She argued that despite the fact that 90% of 143 countries have at least one law that inhibits women from engaging in economic activity directly, women “…are also an incredible power in the countries and in the world.” Aguilar cited as evidence that women earned the equivalent of $113 trillion in 2009, noting this amounts to double the gross domestic product of China and India.
Colleen Anunu, a master’s degree candidate in International Agriculture and Rural Development at Cornell University, discussed the importance of cultural context in understanding gender dynamics in agricultural settings. She emphasized that funds spent on development aid—be it through grants, loans, or price premiums—can end up not having the intended effect and may, in some cases, worsen the situation for women and children. She went on to outline the many questions the Coffee Quality Institute’s Partnership for Gender Equity is investigating in attempt to avoid such traps.
Last to speak in the symposium session were Paineto Baluku, managing director of Bukonzo Co-operative Union, and Katherine Nolte, coffee marketer and marketing advisor for Twin. Together, they told the story of how coffee quality problems had a direct link to the ways traditional gender roles affected the work happening on member farms.
In an interview after that session, Baluku explained in more detail why coffee quality suffered in his area for many years: “[Women] were picking the coffee before their husbands would come [home] because they were fearing the husbands [would sell] away the whole garden. They were picking [too soon] so that they (the women) could keep the money.”
Picking early meant a lot of under ripe cherry was sold to the middle men who would come during harvest season.
Baluku understood that if the cooperative could gain better access to international markets, they could keep more of the proceeds from selling coffee. To do that, the members needed to understand what happened to the cherries once they were sold and how to grow a product international buyers wanted to purchase.
As it turned out, another key factor in being able to earn more money and keep it in farming communities involved shifting the dynamics of who made decisions about spending it and how those decisions got made. The cooperative found a way influence that process by developing a better understanding of the interplay between business and gender roles. This work dovetailed with that of others attempting to create a more effective method for economic development. The result of those efforts is the Gender Action Learning System (GALS), a participatory model for exploring gender dynamics in rural communities.
Women now comprise about 85% of the Bukonzo Joint Co-operative’s 5000 farmer members. According Buluku the fact that 55% of its board members are women is intentional.
He said, “If we make [the board] open, [we would] see men coming on board and pushing away some women so this is why we put it as a policy.”
Nolte and Buluku credit the significant increase in the cooperative’s coffee’s cupping scores during the past four years to that institutional commitment to women and to the ongoing use of GALS to set and review the organization’s business goals. The SCAA Sustainability Committee recognized their success with this approach by awarding the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative the SCAA Sustainability Award this year.