Ana Lorena Ureña Siciliano, a smallholder coffee producer from Costa Rica, discussed her story of gender-based inequality in the industry in order to highlight the problem and minimize the gender gap in agriculture.
According to Speciality Coffee, worldwide, 100 million people depend on coffee to survive. Around 20 to 30 percent of farms are female operated but women have a hard time competing with their male counterparts.
Women earn less income, own less land, control fewer assets, have less credit and market information, have a greater difficulty obtaining agricultural inputs, and less training and leadership opportunities.
These disadvantages are mainly happening because of a deeply rooted social bias that leaves women in hardship. Not only does this affect women but the industry as a whole suffers as a consequence. These inequalities have created inefficiencies within the coffee value chain because women are unable to access the tools they need to improve or even maintain their output.
Lorena grew up on her farm, Café Famu, and worked there since she was a little girl. She recalls her love for the school and wanting to achieve higher education. However, her dreams were short-lived when her father pulled her out of school in the sixth grade telling her that school was for lazy people and she was needed on the farm. Having only an elementary education, Lorena had no choice but to continue her family's coffee legacy.
Many women including Lorena bear a “double-burden” in the industry working a disproportionate amount of hours compared to men. Typically, men work eight hours a day while women can work up to 15 hours a day.
Female workers work long hours in the field and then come home to their traditional responsibilities of child-rearing, caring for the elderly, hauling water, collecting firewood, cooking, washing clothes and cleaning.
“Once we finish work, especially during harvest season, we have to cook, do laundry, attend the kids, wait for the husband to come home from work,” said Lorena. “we have to wake up at least at three in the morning. We have many more responsibilities and it is hard for us women.”
Furthermore, according to Specialty Coffee, 70 percent of women are involved in laboring in the field, harvesting, and processing while only ten percent participate in influential roles such as transport and marketing the product.
In many cases, because of cultural reasons, women are given smaller and less fertile land than men. This leads to a massive 39 percent gap in profit with men making on average $716 and women $440 leading to a vicious circle where women face greater challenges getting out of poverty.
“These challenges are my own fears,” said Lorena. “This is something that I have to overcome. Those looks, those thoughts, male chauvinism is a big problem. However, I believe that these challenges make us stronger.”
By promoting gender equality, the coffee industry will benefit tremendously - improving coffee quality, productivity and economic growth in rural communities.
By training women on ways to improve their coffee, their cupping scores increase dramatically. A case reported by Speciality Coffee states that women coffee growers improved from 79 points to 85.75 over a four year period because of their inclusion in the training process.
According to Specialty Coffee, empowering women in the industry can increase productivity by 20-30 percent if given access to resources and information. Additionally, financial empowerment can help alleviate poverty in the agricultural sector. Women tend to invest in household needs such as nutrition, school fees, clothing, health care, and improvements while men tend to invest in consumables.
“I started 20 years ago [producing coffee] because my husband had to go out and work. It is not common for a woman to run a farm, it is not easy for male farmers to accept the opinion of a woman. They look at us like — they see it is very strange — like women should not be in charge, men should.”
Lorena’s life mission was to get her children into university, something she never had the chance to do. Years of hard work and dedication helped her to accomplish her dream of giving her children a choice to follow their dreams and beams with pride when she talks about them.
Author: Francesca De Nes was on a 2-month assignment with Bean Voyage in the summer of 2019, covering the stories of coffee producers through a variety of angles. This is the first of a series that will be published over the next few weeks which deconstructs that coffee sector through the stories of smallholder womxn and their experiences. Francesca is studying Political Science for her Bachelor of Arts at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.