Coffee Quality Institute: Engendering development

In Popayan, the capital city of Colombia’s Cauca department, an American woman sits down with a group of female coffee farmers. They share the same kind of conversation women have the world over – talking about their work, families, money, and the trials and tribulations of their day-to-day lives. But this conversation is a lot more than idle chitchat. The American woman leading the talk is Kimberly Easson, Gender Program Advisor for the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI). What these women are telling Easson is poised to form the basis for future development of the coffee sector. The session is part of a series of four gender equity workshops that CQI will be having over the next year in support of its mission to improve the quality of coffee and the lives of those who produce it. CQI will hold similar conversations with men and women, both single and coupled, in other parts of the coffee producing world. Combined with an extensive literature review, CQI is looking to draft a comprehensive, data-based report that can be used to inform gender-focused policy and research in the coffee industry for years to come. The business case for everyone – from private companies through to governments and NGOs – to take an interest in this work is powerful. In its 2010-11 State of Food and Agriculture report, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) states that closing the gender gap could generate significant gains for the agricultural industry. The report says that if women had the same access to resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 – 30 per cent. This could raise total agricultural input in developing countries by 2.5 – 4 per cent, and decrease the number of hungry people in the world by 12 – 17 per cent. Easson is well placed to lead the CQI study, with a strong background in gender issues in coffee. Easson is a co-founder of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, and served as Director of Producer Services and Relations at Fairtrade International. CQI’s interest in gender issues dates back to 2005, when the organisation launched the Women in Coffee Leadership Program. Following the coffee price crisis at the turn of the millennium, USAID funded the program to partly address the problem in Central America. It was during this project, Easson tells GCR Magazine, that CQI cemented its belief that it must use a bottom-up approach in any gender work it conducts. “Soon after the launch of this program, we realised we were learning from each other. It’s not a case of the South learning from the North,” she says. Since that time, the development sector has evolved to a much stronger focus on gender, including new requirements for a gender outlook in funding policies. Easson saw there were limited formal resources available on gender in coffee, and that there was a desire in the industry to better understand the issue and invest. “If you don’t have an approach to gender, you will miss out on funding. You need to outline in your application what impact your project will have on gender issues,” she says. Indeed, many funding organisations are explicitly spelling out their requirements for a gender outlook. For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has a 13-page document that outlines what they look for in a gender strategy when considering applications. “Agricultural development must address gender in order to achieve significant impact in the reduction of hunger and poverty,” states the foundation’s Gender Impact Strategy for Agricultural Development. The strategy outlines nine gender-issues tenets that need to be addressed in funding applications. This includes the consideration of female participation, effects on women and children, and also monitoring mechanisms that track the progress of women’s participation. More than just helping in funding applications, Easson says the ultimate goal of CQI’s work is about answering a key question: What is the business case in coffee for investing in gender? “That’s the crux of it,” she says. “If we’re going to request more funding, then we need to show what are we trying to drive. Also, we want to ensure that what we recommend is in line with what producers are looking for.” Although it’s too early to judge the outcomes of the workshops, Easson says initial feedback from the first set of workshops has been in line with more general work on gender in agriculture, where the control of land and resources sits largely in the hands of men. “In Colombia, we saw a pretty strong difference between men’s and women’s roles,” she says. “Men are owners of the product and the land. They are responsible for taking the coffee to be sold, and they’re the first ones to access the money. They don’t tend to share decisions on how that money is spent.” Among all of the high value activities going into the production of coffee, Easson says men tend to control the monetary outcomes. Although women contribute by raising the children, preparing the food, and generally taking care of the household, these contributions don’t attract a monetary value. “We’re able to look at that, and explain how it works in our world,” she says. “Things like property ownership, it’s not the same everywhere. I own my home with my husband, I have a say in when we sell the car.” Historically, land policy and administration have had significant impacts on gender issues. In the Western world, suffrage movements were often linked to land ownership, as a prerequisite to vote. In the developing world, where three out of every four poor people depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods, issues of land come back into play. According to Agriculture and Rural Development: Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook published by FAO, World Bank and the International Fund for Agriculture Development, in the past few decades, the organisations have expanded their programs in land policy and administration, to support gender and social inequality. “Gender inequity can be diminished when women’s rights are explicitly taken into account and when women participate in designing and implementing land policy and programs,” the guidebook states. “Land rights – whether customary or formal – act as a form of economic access to key markets, as well as a form of social access to non-market institutions, such as household relations and community-level governance structures.” Even in cases where women do control households, current literature shows that women have less access to assets, inputs and services. FAO reports that compared to their male counterparts, women tended to operate smaller farms, use less credit and financial services, and use less inputs such as fertilisers, improved seeds and mechanical equipment. As the gender picture becomes clearer, so does the business case for helping lift women out of this position. Making that case for businesses however, Easson says, is not so straightforward. “It’s not so easy to say that if you invest in gender, productivity will go up,” she says. “It’s softer than that… It’s not easy for people to loosen their grip on how things have always been. There are cultural paradigms here that will need to shift.” CQI is set to spend the next year learning more about these paradigms, with the next set of workshops taking place in Nicaragua in January 2015, Uganda in February and Indonesia later in the year. CQI is currently seeking industry involvement, including funding partners. GCR For details visit

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