Did you know that women make up 75% of Africa’s coffee farming workforce?
Africa produces a vast variety of uniquely delicious coffees. From the shores of Lake Kivu, Rwanda to Kenya and the foothills of Ethiopia, you can find some of the world’s best beans here.
Yet, as with much of the world’s coffee, it comes at a cost. While women do the majority of the labour, they rarely have any rights to the profits. Gender inequality is rife.
The good news is that the African Fine Coffees Association (AFCA), an organisation at the forefront of paving the future for African coffees, has set out to change this.
What Is the AFCA and What Do They Do?
The AFCA is a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting and improving humanitarian issues arising from coffee farming in Africa.
One of their main initiatives is Women and Youth in Coffee. The aim is to support the women of the African coffee workforce, many of whom will have to work on coffee plantations in order to support their families in addition to filling more traditional housewife roles.
Women, who often bear the brunt of the labour, rarely have the rights to their earnings – or their property. This leaves them vulnerable if their male relatives, who commonly take financial control, decide to spend the money or sell their land. And that’s not the only worry: if they become widowed, or their relationship breaks down, they can be left in an equally precarious position.
Clearly, these issues negatively impact the productive capacity of African coffee – not to mention that they’re a transgression of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
So How Does the AFCA Tackle the Financial Disempowerment of African Women?
The AFCA strives to shift attitudes towards gender equality in coffee production by empowering whole families.
Three years ago the AFCA got together with some of their partners to combat these issues. Their solution was to develop an initiative called ‘Coffee Farming As A Family Business’.
The key is raising awareness, educating people, and encouraging solidarity. It’s getting families and communities to work together and improving the situation for all so that coffee production in Africa can continue fairly and ethically.
The AFCA want to support women, but they can’t do that in isolation. They educate and encourage families to work as whole units for their own benefit. It’s hoped that by doing this, coffee production will increase and families will generate more income, thereby obtaining a higher quality of life overall.
United for a greater purpose. Credit: Sarah Schach, AFCA
The challenges are vast – but not unachievable. And the AFCA are tackling them through four positive, practical steps.
The AFCA aims to encourage family solidarity, educating family and community members – both men and women – about the benefits of working together. This means promoting equal relationships, roles, and responsibilities. It’s about recognising the benefits of better communication. And it works towards the understanding that a family can flourish when it becomes an entity made up of equals, working together towards the same ends.
This educational process takes time, but that doesn’t put the AFCA off. They lead interactive, weekly training sessions to see long-term progress.
Coming together to give training, Credit: Sarah Schach, AFCA
While gender equality is a big issue, it’s not the only one: encouraging younger generations to stay working in coffee plantations is becoming more and more challenging. This problem isn’t unique to Africa; it appears in South America too. For more and more young people, working in coffee is becoming unappealing. Many of them leave their farms behind, giving the responsibility of managing them to their elders. As of such, the continuation of coffee production by the ‘next generation’ is at stake.
The AFCA emphasises the importance of finding ways to attract younger people into the coffee value chain. They encourage younger generations of workers to assist older farmers. By doing so, these younger workers begin to generate some financial independence and stability.
The hope is that, thanks to this financial incentive, younger workers may wish to acquire land for their own plantations, providing a more stable lifespan for coffee production across regions and communities.
3. Agricultural Practice
The AFCA doesn’t just fight systems of oppression through tackling attitudes; it also provides practical support which can help farmers benefit from day one. It aims to assist in the proper teaching of agricultural practices, such as the benefits of particular fertilizers so that farming families can properly cultivate their crops and produce optimum yields from their trees.
4. Financial Advice
It’s all very well getting people to produce coffee well – but what happens after the coffee’s been farmed and sold?
It’s essential that families are equipped with the knowledge and training for how best to use their earned income. The AFCA provides advice on business and financial planning. This involves helping family members to learn basic accounting and budgeting. This helps on a day-to-day level, but can also provide more dramatic help. Should a family needed financial assistance from a community bank, they can apply using a properly recorded business history.
Working better together – always. Credit: Sarah Schach, AFCA
The potential for African coffee is enormous, and with good agricultural farming practices, family teamwork, a strong youth presence, and a greater knowledge of financial requirements, working families will experience sustainable income and an improved overall quality of life.
The hope is that if the problems facing gender issues and worker equality amongst families are addressed correctly, the production of premium quality African coffee can be increased by 20%. Pickers, farmers and consumers alike will reap the benefits of this.
The focus needs to be on encouraging coffee farming as a family business. By doing so, the role of working women in these communities will become fairer and less fragile. Whole families will be empowered and gender inequality will dissolve.
With contributions by Sarah Schach of AFCA and edited by S. McCusker.
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