Women in the Coffee Industry

We have a special focus on women in the coffee industry because they carry on their fragile shoulders much of the hardest field work in it and receive lower pay than men, according to international statistics.

International Women’s Day – March 8, is approaching and we focus again on women in the coffee industry. A considerable part of our coffees were produced by female farmers.

Which Dabov coffees were produced by women?

Our current catalogue includes great flavors from Gabriela Hueck from Finca La Virgen – Nicaragua La Virgen and Nicaragua Gabriela Hueck, Marysabel Caballero from Finca El Puente – Honduras Geisha Marysabel and Moises, Honduras Caballero, Honduras Finca El Puente and Java Marysabel and Moises, Heleanna Georgalis – Ethiopia Guji Uraga and Ethiopia Guji Odo Shakiso.

Let us not forget also our exquisite Women’s Box with three coffees – Honduras Caballero, Nicaragua Gabriela Hueck and Brazil Fazenda Recreio. The Brazilian one can be tasted only in this box at the moment. Fazenda Recreio is a Brazilian farm with traditions. A widow with 4 children, Ignes Bernardina da Silva Dias, founded it 130 years ago. Today, the farm is a proud winner of 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in Cup of Excellence.

The other two coffees are also from farms that have won prestigious positions in the Cup of Excellence. Marysabel Caballero remembers how she and her husband Moises Herrera won the coveted 1st place in 2016.

And Gabriela Hueck came in 6th in 2018 with the coffee produced by Finca La Virgen. In the farm, two families partner in cultivating specialty coffees.

Remember the first two places in the Cup of Excellence in 2019 – Honduras Santa Lucia Geisha COE #1 2019 and Peru La Lucuma COE #1 2019? Both cultivated by female farmers! And the one from Honduras set a Cup of Excellence record as the highest-rated Geisha in the competition to date.

Brazil’s 10th best coffee for 2019 from Fazenda Aterradinho also has come to your cup and was also produced by woman!

Eleane Mierisch, the producer of Honduras Santa Lucia Geisha COE #1 2019, together with Jordan Dabov after the final of the Cup of Excellence Honduras in 2019.

We are proud of the achievements of our female partners

Why are we so excited by the fact that so many of the award-winning coffees in our catalog come from female farmers? We don’t do it out of any special personal biases. But we do this because we are aware of how unenviable the position of women in the coffee industry still is.

We are extremely proud of the achievements of our female partners because we know how many efforts they have made to enter the world of specialty coffee. To stay in it until now. And to be successful in it.

Congratulations to all our female partners on the occasion of 8 March! We wish them health, energy and inspiration to continue producing amazing coffees that we can enjoy and to take as good care of their communities as ever!

Women face greater challenges

And now let’s talk about the mass coffee industry. The challenges facing women at all levels of the industry vary by country, culture and gender inequality issues. In the coffee industry, as in many other industries, gender inequality is still a pressing issue.

There is still a long way to go in order for women to be better represented in it and to receive higher pay for their work. When we quote statistics on the presence of women in the coffee industry, we should be careful. Not because someone is deliberately distorting the figures. It is difficult to gather information about small, remote, or isolated places inhabited primarily by indigenous peoples such as Native American tribes in South America or tribal groups in Africa.

Women work in lower positions in the coffee industry

There are over 500 million people in the world that work in the coffee industry. Twenty percent of them live below the poverty line and women are the most affected. According to data from the International Trade Center from 2008, the highest number of women, up to 70%, works mainly during the cultivation of the land, harvesting, sorting coffee.

When it comes to trade, export, analysis or laboratory work and decision-making, women are much less represented (up to 20%). Few own land or a farm (less than 10%). And, as in many other areas, women still have a much longer working day because they take care of the household and children after they return home.

Gabriela Huek in Finca La Virgen, where they encourage educational practices both for children and adults.

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance has chapters in 27 countries already

This is also reported by the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) – a non-profit organization founded in 2003 in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the United States. Today it has local organizations in 27 coffee producing countries. Its goal is to empower women in the international coffee community to change their lives for the better. At the same time, IWCA strives to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry.

Blanca Castro, the chapter manager and a farmer, says that her main task in working with female farmers is to inspire them because they do not believe they can sell their coffee at a better price. If one of them says, “I don’t know English,” Blanca replies, “Learn it!” If another says, “I don’t know how to produce better coffee,” Blanca’s answer is, “Learn how to!”. She is a constant motivator and with the Alliance she also looks for buyers for the coffee produced by women.

If we want to help the change that has already started to continue, the only thing that we, as coffee consumers, can do, is to buy the quality coffee at a higher but just price.

The number of organizations that support women in the coffee industry is growing

Among those organizations there are financial funds such as Earth’s Choice. There are also non-profit organizations such as the CQI Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE), which collect statistics on the number of women in the industry, the problems they face and in response develop a methodology for the gradual resolution of those problems. Local organizations such as Café Feminino Foundation – coffee producers in Peru and in Colombia – AMUCC – Colombia are also involved.

Erna Knutsen, the godmother of specialty coffee

Now let’s enter the world of specialty coffee. It is no coincidence that the godmother of specialty coffee is a woman, Erna Knutsen (1921-2018). She was the first to use the term “specialty coffee”.

Erna Knutsen entered the world of coffee in 1968 as a secretary at the coffee trading company B.C. Ireland in San Francisco. There she developed a strong passion for those very special coffees that were traded alongside ordinary, mass coffees. In 1981 she became vice-president of the company. In those years, this was unheard of for a woman in the coffee business.

But she didn’t stop there.

She gradually gained her own clients. As a result, in 1985 she bought the company of which she was vice-president and renamed it Knutsen Coffees.

Knutsen Coffees newsletters gained huge popularity in the industry. They were written in an enthusiastic style by Erna. They were filled with her rich knowledge of coffee. In them, she was writing about her idea of specialty coffee. She wrote also about the movement of producers and traders of specialty coffee. The receivers of the newsletters gained knowledge on topics such as coffee origins or the terms of flavor characteristics. Processing techniques and rules of the game in the world of specialty coffee in general were also covered.

And all this before the Internet era – by fax and mail.

Jordan Dabov in Ethiopia – one of the countries where women still have a much longer working day because it continues at home with the household and children care.

Women in the specialty coffee world today

The female farmers we work with take care of their coffee by taking care of their community first. Whether because of an inherent maternal instinct or because of a wisdom that tells them that a person needs to achieve prosperity on many levels in order to feel happy and fulfilled, those farmers treat their workers as members of their large family. This does not mean showering them with benefits for no reason. It simply means striving to provide them with social benefits on various levels.

As Marysabel Caballero puts it, “You know, I think that when you believe in God you know that how you measure, you will be measured. You have to treat people as you want them to treat you and you have to share your blessings. If people around you are feeling good, you will feel good. They care about you because they know you care about them.“

Our female farmers do not stand behind but next to the men with whom they partner on the farm, and often these are their life companions. Many of those women learned the craft from their fathers but then moved on on their own. In some cases, such as Heleanna Georgalis in Ethiopia, they run their own farms.

First generation of female farmers in the specialty coffee world

And something very important – even when we talk about farms with a long history, their current female owners are only the first generation to grow specialty coffee. And they need to be at least as well prepared for the surprises of the industry year after year as their male counterparts. So that they can prove their qualities as farmers and gain the place and respect they deserve.

There are such female farmers in the Araku Valley in India. From there, we will soon offer you some of the award-winning coffees from the Gems of Araku competition. Twenty years ago, the Indian Naandi Foundation set out to help local farmers there.

Naandi’s first and main task in the region was to send all the girls to school. It then builds on their education with additional courses to develop their full potential. For many of those girls this means to enter the world of specialty coffee farming…