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Testimonies of coffee farmers from Kenya.

The Business Case

Gender inequalities in power and resources negatively affect economic efficiency at all levels. Participatory analysis by men and women coffee farmers in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania using GALS tools have concluded that gender inequalities were not only a problem for women, but a key cause of low productivity, low quality and prices at the farm level.

Coffee is often seen as an ‘old man’s crop’. It is older men who control the land and also the income. But they are often not the main ones doing, or capable of doing, most of the work and adopting improved practices. Men are in many households only involved in intermittent heavy tasks. Many younger men farmers migrate outside, coming back to harvest and market the coffee beans when they want cash. Though they may be the only ones with enough time to go to trainings and cooperative meetings.

Many coffee farming households face a lot of conflict. Men estimated that 70% of men in the area had a drinking problem that wasted significant portion of family income. 70% of 495 men followed up by Bukonzo Joint in Uganda openly admitted to taking all the money from coffee, and even stealing their wife’s money, wasting much of this on drink and other women. Polygamy (59% men interviewed in 2009) increased the level of dependency on increasingly fragmented plots of land and also reduced men’s income and labour input into any one household. There was a high level of marital instability, domestic violence (40% of 887 men interviewed), male alcoholism (58%) and drug addiction. In some households men’s expenditure on alcohol in one month was equal to the costs of the school fees for a term. Similar patterns and proportions are reported by men from Tanzania and Kenya.

Women farmers of all ages play a crucial role in ensuring coffee volumes and quality performing an estimated 70% of the work in cultivation and processing tasks like hulling alongside cultivation of foodcrops and unpaid household work. But they have traditionally been excluded from ownership of coffee land and control over coffee incomes.  Women said that because their benefits from the work or any investments were limited, their motivation to produce/pick/process good quality was small. Trees are neglected because women who perform most of the work are often more interested in using any time and income they have for other crops.

Young men also do not own or control the land use either and are discouraged from cultivating coffee due to low prices, and lack of ownership.

In the research by Bukonzo Joint unripe beans or beans which were not fully processed/still wet were frequently sold by both husband and wife even though they fetched a lower price in order to prevent each other from taking it. Men took any coffee they could when they wanted money – including unripe and unprocessed coffee before women were able to sell it. Men even sold non-harvested coffee, and even the coffee flowers before beans were formed, in advance to get cash. Much of the cash was spent in bars conveniently located next to the trader shops. In some cases they did not even tell their wives and the trader simply came and took the coffee.

Women’s lack of buy-in to coffee and role in decision-making limited investment in production or efficient processing like hulling. In Bukonzo Joint earlier much of the coffee was dried in the dust on the ground leading to mixing with impurities which further reduced the quality.

The fact that those doing most of the work have little say or incentive to improve quality and quantity is a major reason why technical trainings to improve quality and quantity are often not implemented.

All of these factors contribute to a weak smallholder coffee sector, which lacks the dynamism to fulfil its potential as a very valuable income stream to coffee farming families.

This can change

One factor that discourages companies from addressing gender issues is the perception that things cannot change and/or change is inevitably conflictual and/or requires some sort of ‘separate women’s social project’.

The experiences of champions shown on this site show that this is not the case. Change can happen quite quickly and that this leads to improvements in coffee production.

See for example the case of Mberuseru, Mpole and Lickson from Vuasu

and the experience of Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union in Uganda

2015 SCAA Sustainability Award
and testimonies of coffee farmers in videos above from Kenya.