The first time Abhi and I met Ericka was on a bright sunny day in June 2016. She came out from a turquoise house with a wide grin on her face. She stood in front of a tree drooping with lilac flowers and I just remember being in awe of the very moment, filled with warmth and light. She walked towards us to give all of us a tight hug. Her three daughters followed, slightly timid but curious and reached out to shake our hands. Her husband, Ruben also enthusiastically reached out to us. They filled the air warm instantly.
The next few hours after we got introduced to her family was filled with emotional encounters. Ericka told us about her life’s journey. Her passion for learning led her to get a university degree in education. Nevertheless, soon after she got married, she was diagnosed with a bone tumor. Her entire family was shaken. At the time, she was also pregnant with her second daughter. Thankfully, she was able to get it treated, although she had to amputate her right leg after a series of surgeries.
Her family supported her throughout, with everything they could earn with coffee. Although they were barely paid $3 per kilogram of coffee, it has meant life to them. And that is why it was a hard moment when they realized that they might have to sell their lands to pay for medical expenses along with their daughters’ education. And, once again, they looked to coffee for a solution. They were encouraged to start a micro-mill in their backyard through our conversations. They were convinced that they could process one of the highest quality coffee in their backyard using artisanal methods. This way, Ericka was also able to once again take part in running their farm leading quality-control aspect of her coffee. They were now able to earn over 300% more than what they had previously earned per kilogram of coffee. This shift has allowed them to continue pursuing their passion for coffee, pay for their children’s education as well as the medical care for Ericka. They once again saw hope through coffee.
Ericka is one of 20,039,789 farmers dependent on coffee for their livelihoods. While Ericka’s story may be unique, it is also not. Across Costa Rica and other coffee producing countries, women consist 60-70% of the working population on farms. They are heavily involved in the steps in the process that are closely linked to the quality but are often absent in the final stage where money changes hands. Moreover, in an absolutely quantitative sense, women are not fairly represented due to male ownership of the land, and male dominance in business management.
In our previous approach, we heavily focused on the market connection for the female farmers. The gap in their ability to approach the market seemed greater compared to their male counterparts. We focused on sharing their stories, marketing their products and hence ensured a greater income for them through our B2C sales. However, as we look to work with a larger number of female coffee producers, we quickly came to realize that there was also a huge gap in information and knowledge between female and male coffee producers.
Coffee processing method requires specific knowledge-based training. It is just like wine-making where you look after coffee cherries upon harvesting to reach the perfect level of fermentation, and humidity among other things. Many female coffee producers lacked knowledge in this regards. Their distance from the market meant the limited flow of information regarding what the market desired, and how the field was evolving. Each year, new methods of processing were being introduced, and yet, they were far from reaching them let alone reaping benefits from them.
This realization gave us the new direction for Bean Voyage. After hours of consultations with the producers and experts in coffee, we came to understand the specific areas that the female producers needed the most assistance in. With our new focus, we dedicate more time towards training for our farmers. The sessions will cover knowledge on running a micro mill including budgeting and financial journals to different processing methods, roasting, and cupping of coffee. They not only will have a better knowledge of their product but also have an improved product. Additionally, we help them reach a wider audience that will sustainably buy their products through B2B relationships.
This approach hopes to allow more female coffee producers to have competitive and up-to-date knowledge on coffee, improved products and be involved more heavily in the negotiating tables building towards sustainable development.
It is an exciting year for us at Bean Voyage and our female coffee producers. We also look forward to sharing more of our stories and progresses throughout the journey with you this year!