Hidden Figures: Women in The Coffee Supply Chain

Quick, without thinking about it, picture an agricultural farmer from another country.

Have one in mind?

Was the person you had in mind a male?

Chances are that you, like myself, came to that conclusion without even thinking twice about it.  Assuming that women were hidden back in the house perhaps cooking or cleaning.

Although this may be the case in some circumstances, women actually make up between 43% and 70% of the agricultural workforce (depending on the country), according to the World Farmers Organization.


57% of Rwandan coffee farmers are female

In many countries across the world, despite this large showing in the workforce, they get little to no representation or pay.

In many South American and African countries, where so much of the world’s coffees come from, women are not given equal access simply because they are women.  It is estimated that by simply eliminating the gender gap in these countries, that women’s farm production would go up 30% in developing countries and almost 4% in developed countries.

“Women are on the front lines when it comes to our beloved cup of coffee. They serve as the primary labor force on roles that most affect quality, from picking the ripe coffee cherries off the tree to sorting beans throughout processing. Despite their significant role, most earnings go to men who own the property and manage commercial deals,” says Phyllis Johnson, president of BD Imports.

Thankfully, there are plenty of organizations tackling these very subjects.

The International Women’s Coffee Alliance is one of these fantastic organizations.  They have done everything from teaching Guatemalan female coffee farmers extra skills like coffee grafting, to developing profit-sharing plans in Burundi.


Bloomberg Philanthropies also committed large sums of money to aid African female coffee farmers, seeing it as a simple solution to help women participate in Africa’s continuing growth.

The Food And Agricultural Organization (FAO), part of the United Nations, found that in these countries where women are forbidden to own land and many items, they therefore do not have collateral to give them access to credit; credit that would enhance their farms.


Simple things like learning to budget and connecting with buyers make a huge difference

The FAO found that many of these countries, unsurprisingly, lacked gender specific data of their own.  So, with these sexist policies in place, without organizations like those mentioned above, there would not even be statistics and facts to show that these same countries are actually being held back by not helping their female population.

So, what is the solution?

Well, awareness is the first step.  We are now both aware that women are being taken advantage of in many agricultural situations.  Not only that, but we now know that one of the paths to help these poorer countries succeed is through empowering these very same women.


We have taken just the first step though, and that is the easiest step.

Each country and region has its own rules and cultures in play, so this is not a one stop, simple solution kind of thing.

But, these organizations do seem to be doing a lot to not only empower women and enrich their lives, but bring economic benefits to the country as a whole.  Oh, and yes, a better cup of coffee to our doorsteps.


Consider donating if this is a cause that speaks to you.

2 thoughts on “Hidden Figures: Women in The Coffee Supply Chain

    • Thanks for the response, and good question.
      It depends on the situation and where we are talking about. The big issues is not usually that the women don’t get paid anything in most circumstances, but that they earn much less, and have restricted access.

      And Fair Trade Coffee makes sure the farmers don’t get taken advantage of, but makes no promises about equality between males and females, just that certain stipulations are met. We actually wrote a blog on how Fair Trade Coffee works here: https://blog.matchmadecoffee.com/2017/04/30/how-is-fair-trade-coffee-determined/


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