While organizing workshops for a women’s association in Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica, we shared meals and stories with smallholder women in the region who were heavily involved in coffee production. During one of our conversations, we asked them, “what does coffee mean to you?”. Their answers were “trabajo” (hard work), “dinero” (money), and “forma de vida” (form of life). As coffee lovers, who often associated coffee with words such as freshness, passion, energy and a morning ritual, we were shocked to learn that coffee producers were facing dreadful economic conditions.
We learned that producers were spending as much as $1.40 to produce a pound of coffee, and the market was paying as low as $0.97 per pound of coffee. We discovered that these challenges were not unique to a small community in Perez Zeledon, and that there are over 5 million smallholder women around the world who heavily depend on coffee for their livelihood but are not able to make a sustainable living from its production. Women own 25% of the world’s coffee farms, and form 70% of the workforce in the coffee supply chain. Yet, they earn 39% less than their male counterparts, produce lower quality yields, and are challenged with lack of finance and gender-based discrimination.
We believed that when female coffee producers are empowered to understand and improve the quality of their coffee, they can generate more income for their family and lead their communities towards a sustainable future. So, we launched our first pilot with a group of 2 women from Los Santos, Costa Rica in August 2016, then our second pilot with a group of 16 women in November 2017. We provided them with training on technical coffee skills, and connected them to markets in the U.S.
We connected our producers to consumers around the world, ensuring a 300% increase in income through direct market access. We realized that technical assistance coupled with direct trade could lead to improved livelihoods and a sustainable future for smallholder coffee producers.
After successfully piloting the program, we officially launched the Care Trade program with the mission to provide training and market access to smallholder women coffee producers so they can earn a better income, support their families through coffee, and lead their communities towards a sustainable future.
We trained 47 smallholder women through the Care Trade Program. We also had our first official graduation! Through our efforts, we have impacted the lives of more than 230 family members and almost 500 farm workers in the last three years.