The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance

In the News

February 24, 2013

Most of us take our half calf, soy vanilla lattes for granted. But so routine is the daily trip to the local Starbucks or Peet’s or Coffee Bean that few of us think about the farmers who grow the coffee beans that provide us with our morning fuel. Even fewer still are those of us who consider the fact that about 70% of the maintenance and harvesting work on a family-owned coffee farm is done by women. Surprised?

More surprising is that even as a majority of the work done on family coffee farms is done by women, women own less than 1% of the world’s titled land. The World Bank estimates that more than 500 million people throughout the world are dependent on coffee, and of that number, 25 million are coffee farmers. While conditions are typically substandard for coffee farmers, women face additional challenges – like abuse, neglect, poverty and the inability to gain economic, social or political power in their family’s business or in their community. It’s no wonder that of the world’s estimated 1 billion poor, 70% are women.

That’s where The International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) comes in. The IWCA strives to create a difference in the world of coffee, empowering women and promoting possibilities for women in coffee communities throughout the world. Mery Santos, IWCA Secretary, and Phyllis Johnson, IWCA Chapter Relation Chair, say that to answer the question of why women do not own the land in family owned coffee farms, you need to go deeper into not only history but culture. 

“Some of the land ownership goes back three or four family generations. Culture and politics have also played a big factor in why women do not own land. IWCA strategy is to build chapters in coffee producing countries where women can organize themselves as an organization with a voice that eventually can have some influence on changing the current laws and policy making that impacts them directly,” says Santos and Johnson.

One thing that makes IWCA so special and unique is that it is a global network of women in coffee. As an individual, a female farmer may not be able to do or have an impact, but as an organization or a group, the community pays attention and their voices can be heard. IWCA advocates for the reduction of barriers for women in coffee producing countries, and provides access to resources while creating a forum in which to connect with other women. And the emergence of social media and the internet has become an important tool as well in bridging some of the gaps that have kept women from working together in the past.

“If you take a look at a single coffee producing country, and the geography of it, it is challenging to travel around. In the past just to have a face-to-face meeting, you had to travel for days and in some places walk. Social media and technology is facilitating communication, education, networking, and more. It has made a tremendous difference on the availability of resources for the women in coffee producing countries,” says Santos and Johnson.

Women continue to struggle with basic rights worldwide, especially in the coffee–producing regions of Africa and Indonesia. The IWCA seeks to provide women with leadership training, technical training, and strategic planning, while helping to create a peer network where women can learn and grow from each other. Each of their chapters is organized as legal entities so that they have a voice in their own country. 

“It's our job to help prepare women in coffee for advancement and it all starts with confidence and teamwork. This work helps to prepare them for the bigger issues they face on national levels. One of our many partners, The International Trade Centre, an affiliate of the World Trade Organization and United Nations, has the ability to affect policies to advance women in trade. We are seeing positive changes in many of the African countries where we work,” says Santos and Johnson.

The IWCA has high hopes for the future of the alliance and for the future of women in farming. One of their goals is to have a chapter in every coffee producing country, as well as in coffee consuming countries. This model, says Santos and Johnson, allows for the development of solid and sustainable partnerships between producers and buyers. A bigger goal is to have a seat at the International Coffee Organization council where they can work together on gender initiatives that will benefit women and their families. The 3rd International Women’s Coffee Alliance Convention that took place in Guatemala Feb 7-9, 2013, had representation from over 12 countries and IWCA signed letters of understanding (LOU) with India and the Philippines, adding to a total now of 11 chapters around the world. 

“If women own their own land and their own businesses, it means they are in control of their lives and in control to raise a family without fears. They can grow and secure a better standard of living for the entire community in which they live,” add Santos and Johnson.

Learn more about the International Women’s Coffee Alliance