Our Sisters in Coffee

by Equal Exchange Quality Control Manager Beth Ann Caspersen. Pictured above: Beth Ann with participants in the Gender Equity Training hosted by Coffee Quality Institute in 2015. 

I first started talking about the role of women in coffee production in 2010, after I participated in a women’s coffee producer meeting in Uganda. Since that time, I have met countless women farmers that have both prospered and found themselves stuck in a society without a voice. Some of these women have created strong networks that reach deep into their communities, united by weekly meetings, song and a sisterhood that is based on where they are physically located. Many of these same women also struggle to find their voice at home in their families and through their coffee businesses. Coffee farming is a difficult job; women are intimately involved in their coffee farms along with caring for the home, preparing the meals, caring for the animals and raising the children.  I have listened to women’s stories of starting the day as early as 4am and ending as late as 10pm at night. Their work is hard. Many women have felt left out of trainings due to their familial responsibilities — if they leave for the day, who will watch the children, prepare the meals and take care of the home?  

This has to change. The future of coffee depends on women and there are many women in coffee that are moving forward, attending meetings and ascending the cooperative management ladder. For example, at PRODECOOP in Nicaragua, you will see Dona Alexa Marin, a coffee farmer and gender equity champion and Fatima Lopez, who started out as the quality assistant in the cupping laboratory and now manages one of the most successful coffee mills in all of Nicaragua. The question is, what is gender equity and how are these women different from the women that are struggling? It’s a complex question.

I had the opportunity to participate in a gender equity workshop in 2015, and one of the many lessons I learned in this mixed group training was that ongoing training, education and communication are a continuous need. The reality is that many of the successes I have seen are separated by training, education and support. While women are the center of the home, being gender-inclusive and providing these same tools to husbands and families will make coffee farming families stronger. Equal Exchange has supported the Coffee Quality Institute through their Gender Equity Program to research gender issues, design programs and train hundreds of people. While there are countless case studies of women in agriculture who are successful leaders and have decision-making power in their work, we will continue to strive to do more.  Each woman I have met is different, and many of them I would call my sisters in coffee.  This spans the supply chain, from farmer to co-op manager to buyer to barista. Let’s continue to tackle some of the complex questions that arise. There are no easy answers, but I do know that our sisters in coffee are the future.


Ligia Lopez, Commercial Manager at PRODECOOP

Equal Exchange Green Coffee Buyer Carly Kadlec in the Quality Control Lab at PRODECOOP in Nicaragua with cuppers Ligia, Fatima, Agueda and Iris.

In honor of our sisters in coffee, and the work of women in co-ops and communities around the world, we bring you Organic Sisters’ Blend. It’s a rich Full City blend of Nicaraguan and Peruvian beans, and we hope you’ll share it with people who inspire you.

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *