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Non-Profit Programs Help the Women Who Grow Coffee

“A lot of people just don’t understand how much women are involved in coffee growing. They’re often the ones managing the farms, and they just don’t get the credit for it.” — Katy Boyd Dutt

By Lorrie Baumann

American coffee roasters and their customers are teaming up in various ways to better the lives of women in coffee-producing areas. In many impoverished areas of the world where coffee is grown, women typically do most of the work to produce the coffee but have very little control over the proceeds from their crops. “We think it is a very important movement in coffee,” said Nancy Moore, a member of the management team for Almana Harvest, a nonprofit corporation that works in conjunction with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance. The IWCA has chapters of registered women coffee producers around the world.

UPDATE: Nancy Moore, CEO Almana Harvest Corp., will be a featured speaker at ExpoEspeciales 2013 Café de Colombia in Bogota, Colombia next week(October 14-18): (http://www.feriaexpoespeciales.com). The folks at Almana Harvest have also published a short video, “Columbian Coffee Stories: Women and Coffee” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=FrRW_kNw5bk

 Almana Harvest is a marketing and certification organization whose role is to develop American markets for coffee produced by IWCA members as well as to certify coffee growers for the “Harvested by Women” certification program adopted by the IWCA. The Harvested by Women certification is intended to allow coffee producers to sell their coffee to American roasters at premium prices. Almana Harvest is the auditor that ensures that the producer meets standards for gender diversity as well as traceability, social responsibility and environmental responsibility. The organization also provides an infrastructure to develop a market for the certified coffee in the United States

“IWCA is active in Central and South America. We work hand in glove. They’re the principal suppliers for the demand we’re creating,” Moore said. “While they continue to grow their chapters and build membership within coffee-producing areas, there will be more supply.”

A portion of the revenue that is generated by the premium pricing goes back to the IWCA chapters to fund community projects that improve the lives of the women who produce the coffee. “They have the program. They’ll be handling the projects and the grant money. We’re providing a revenue stream, so the grants are ongoing,” Moore said. “If you value the women, then the whole community benefits. There’s a tremendous amount of research in that area. It’s not just the women that we’re trying to help and grow—it’s the whole community. But if you value women, it betters the community.”

Boyd’s Coffee of Portland, Ore. has become the first American roaster to buy and sell coffee through the “Harvested by Women” program. Katy Boyd Dutt, s fourth-generation member of the family company, recently visited Guatemala in February of this year to tour some farms and learn more about coffee growing areas and to attend the International Women’s Coffee Conference. At the Conference, Nancy Moore of Almana Harvest was a speaker, and Moore impressed Dutt with her presentation. Dutt went home to Portland and arranged to buy some of the Harvested by Women-certified coffee from a grower in Costa Rica.

“We got the coffee,” Dutt said. “Right now, we only have a little bit of it available, so the coffee will only be available while supplies last. We are hoping to continue on with the process and find other coffees that we like just as well.”

The coffee that Boyd’s purchased is now being sold under the Cafe Libre brand. According to Dutt, it is a light to medium roast coffee, mellow but with full body and personality and good, rich flavor. Because only a limited amount of the Cafe Libre coffee was available, Boyd’s offered most of it to its foodservice customers. A small amount of it is available for retail through a few Portland markets as well as through the Boyd’s website. However, Boyd expects that it will most likely by available only through early September. For every bag that Boyd’s sells, a 25-cent donation goes back to the Harvested by Women program.

“We really believe in this certification, so we are retailing the coffee for the same price as the other coffees in our lineup,” Dutt said. “A lot of people just don’t understand how much women are involved in coffee growing. They’re often the ones managing the farms, and they just don’t get the credit for it.”

Cafe Femenino is a similar program co-founded by Gay Smith. Smith co-owned Organic Products Trading Company, one of the first organic coffee importers in the United States, along with her husband Garth. When fair trade came along, OPTCO was one of the first to join and promote the movement to the coffee cooperatives with which they worked. The company had already been paying additional premiums for the coffee that Smith and her husband were buying, as a way of providing extra revenue to help combat the poverty in coffee-producing areas. “Fair trade made that a lot simpler for us,” Smith said.

During her coffee-buying trips, Smith had also become aware of the horrific abuse being suffered by the women who were growing the coffee her company was buying. “Women are considered to have no value, no matter whether they’re taking care of the children, raising the animals and taking care of the family gardens, the home and the coffee farm,” she said. “My husband’s and my company had a social mission to begin with. We were a part of organizing and promoting training to help the women with issues relating to self-esteem. What we learned from working with the women was that without actual change occurring, then the women’s self-esteem did not change either.”

Encouraged by the discussions they were having in these training programs, a group of female coffee producers, led by Isabel Uriarte La Torre, formally came together in 2003. They decided to separate their production from that of the men, and they thus created the first official “coffee produced by women” in the world. This coffee became known as Café Femenino coffee.

Café Femenino coffees are all organic and fair trade-certified. These certifications provided a third-party independent certified audit trail to ensure that the coffee is produced by women and that women are directly receiving the premium funds for their coffee. The certifications also ensure that the social and environmental goals generally expected of fair trade products are observed. Café Femenino coffees are still imported and sold by OPTCO.

Smith and her husband sold OPTCO in 2010, and she no longer works with the Café Femenino coffee program. However, she is a part of the board of directors for the Café Femenino Foundation. Established in 2004, the foundation is totally separate from the coffee import company. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with no ties to coffee production or sales.

An open foundation, the Café Feminino Foundation benefits women in the coffee-producing communities around the world by raising funds in wealthier nations and channeling them into community programs in numerous coffee-producing countries though grant requests. Among the projects funded by the Café Femenino Foundation have been schools, libraries, community gardens, animal breeding programs, water projects, health programs, micro-lending funds and emergency aid. “What the foundation does is to use the coffee association’s infrastructure to organize women and to help them have a voice in what the needs are in their families and their communities,” said Smith

Donate to the Cafe Femenino Foundation and view current grant requests at www.coffeecan.org. For more information on Almana Harvest, visit www.almanaharvest.org.

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