Coffee grown by women

Whilst women’s empowerment does figure in the Fairtrade standards, we want to go further and challenge mainstream Fairtrade to show that the bar can be raised and women can have the same access to choices as men.

Smallholders, not estates, produce most of the world’s coffee and some of the best too! Yet despite women doing most of the work on the farm they often have little influence.

Evidence shows that where women control household income the family’s health, nutrition and education improves at a faster rate because less money is spent outside the household.

We see the development of traceable supplies of coffee coming from women farmers as a logical development of Fairtrade. We seek to improve the women’s status and capacity for independent action through these steps. After all, it is always the women who tell the most vivid and personal stories illustrating the change the Fairtrade can make!

Jennipher Wettaka is a producer and this is her story.
I was Born 37 years ago in Bumwambu village in Buginyanya on the slopes of Mt Elgon North of Mbale town. In a family of 8 children; 6 girls and 2 boys. I am the eldest. My parents were coffee farmers and it was the source of income. I grew up working on the coffee farms with my parents and when I got married and moved to another village Masola I continued practicing coffee farming. I’m widowed, a mother of six (6) and have also taken up 3 orphans.
Being a farmer and a mother, I wake up at 5:00a.m to prepare breakfast for the school going children before I leave for my coffee farm at 6:00am. I work on the farm till 9:00a.m and return home to do the other house chores and look for feeds for my animals. In the late afternoons I monitor my other farms or I meet up with my women group members, we discuss issues, get advise from each other and later return home in time to prepare dinner for the family. Dinner is served between 8:00 and 9pm, and then I retire to bed. This is done on a daily basis. On Sunday which is a resting day I go to church.
When I was a little girl I watched my parents struggling to find market for our coffee. And because of this most of the time my father had to walk miles and miles away from home, smuggling coffee to Kenya where he could get a slightly better price. Some people in our village were very frustrated and they decided to cut down their coffee tree to plant other crops. Tending coffee is a very tiring job yet with very low pay. Because of the low prices some farmers did not take very good care during the processing of their coffee, this affected its quality at that time.
During my time in marriage it was the same story; my late husband and I struggled to find market for our coffee. In most cases we sold the coffee to middle men who bought it at a very low price and always mixed it with whatever rubbish they would buy from elsewhere. This greatly affected our Bugisu coffee quality and we could not find a good market and better price. There was no buyer interested in buying poor quality coffee.
Later we heard about Gumutindo coffee co-operative, Gumutindo means quality. We were asked to join and benefit as fair-trade producers, we immediately joined without hesitation and have not looked back. I take pride in myself being a member of a co-operative that revived the spirit of working together on the Mt Elgon. Today, Gumutindo co-operative is made up of 11 growers’ co-operative societies which are spread across MT Elgon.

This year, the dream of having our processing plant is coming true.  During our AGM last year, we collectively agreed to contribute 50% of our FT premium to finance the purchase of the milling factory which is now in the final stages of installation and we feel very proud of this development.

It is early days; Equal Exchange is paying a separate premium of 40c/lb this year, over and above the Fairtrade premium of 10c/lb, to encourage more women to join the initiative. The women decided that our premium be shared equally between all the women who have joined the initiative. Gumutindo now has four women directors on it’s seven-person Board and 50% of the staff are women. Whilst a much smaller percentage of women have formal membership of the co-operative, everyone recognises that there is still a big challenge ahead.

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