As well as writing gender equality into our Code of Conduct, UTZ works with Coffee Quality Institute’s Partnership for Gender Equity (PGE) to improve opportunities for female farmers and their families in Nicaragua. We spoke to PGE’s Strategic Director Kimberly Easson about this important work.

Female farmers are less likely to own land, have access to training or tools, be members of cooperatives, or take part in decision-making processes. In Nicaragua, as in many other coffee producing countries, problems that affect the industry as a whole – devastatingly low coffee prices, aging tree stocks and lack of access to credit – hit women harder.

Kimberly, what does that mean in reality?

“The impact of gender inequity in the coffee sector is not just on women, but also on entire families and communities and the industry overall. Women typically perform 40 to 80% of labor in coffee farming communities. Their work consistently goes unrecognized and unremunerated, which causes a noticeable impact on quality of coffee and quality of life of coffee farming families.”

What difference could gender equity make?

“The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that if women coffee farmers had the same access to labor, fertilizer and seeds as men, yields could increase as much as 30% per household.”

“Coffee companies and leading development agencies alike agree that addressing gender inequalities is key to ensuring the future of coffee and improved well-being. Promoting gender equity within the coffee sector improves the viability of smallholder coffee farming as a family business and prepares more women as well as men to better meet industry demands.”

Increasing women’s participation in parity to men’s participation in supply chains can lead to significant improvements in crop productivity and quality, as well as global food security and poverty reduction.

“Increasing women’s participation in parity to men’s participation in supply chains can also lead to significant improvements in crop productivity and quality, as well as global food security and poverty reduction.”

Household methodologies workshop for coffee communities in Nicaragua

How is PGE working towards this?

“We bring together private companies, development agencies, research institutions and practitioners to take action to integrate gender equity in coffee supply chain activities.”

“We also work with local partners to increase women’s participation in training, achieve greater gender balance in leadership positions and improve women’s access to credit and assets. Furthermore we support joint decision-making and ownership of income and resources at the household level. We focus on coffee farming families and communities, with small holders as a priority, an inclusive approach (men and women), and collaboration across the sector to drive impact.”

Why is sector partnership your chosen approach?

Household methodologies workshop for coffee communities in Nicaragua

“The quality of the coffee bean itself is only one factor of quality in the industry today. Others include sustainability standards, long-term relationships, and a business commitment to the welfare of farmers. For the Coffee Quality Institute, it is critical that we engage with other sustainability initiatives to ensure that farmers are building quality on all these levels, and working with the right partners to make that happen. Only then can they have the best chance of improving their quality of life.”

What has working with UTZ brought to the table?

“UTZ has been a positive partner because they recognize that change does not come from a one-off project. Their implementation period is over three years, which demonstrates awareness that real change is hard to measure after one year, and there must be further analysis of longer-term change.”

UTZ recognizes the importance of scaling up interventions across the sector, and we have been pleased to see that UTZ is planning to launch gender equity projects in other countries as well.

“UTZ also recognizes the importance of scaling up interventions across the sector, and we have been pleased to see that UTZ is planning to launch gender equity projects in other countries as well.”

What challenges have you faced?

“Throughout the coffee industry, there is a tendency to hear the word ‘women’ when we say the word ‘gender’. Both men and women need to be actively involved in the process of changing attitudes and behaviors. This isn’t a box-ticking exercise for women – it’s a holistic process that everyone should be involved in, because it’s to the benefit of all of us, no matter what our gender.”

This project is part of UTZ’s Sector Partnerships Program, which works alongside certification to promote gender equality in making sustainable farming the norm. Read why here.

Find out more about the Partnership for Gender Equity.