Updated on July 2, 2019

Agricultural supply chains can only be called sustainable if the rights of both men and women are protected, if they both have equal access to knowledge, resources and decision making structures and when both men and women have the liberty to make their own choices. However, there is an imbalance when it comes to opportunities and rights. Women farmers and workers are less likely to have access to education, loans, training or own land. The burden of household chores and childcare still fall overwhelmingly on women’s shoulders. We asked Julius Ng’ang’a, Regional Representative for East Africa, how gender equality can be promoted as an integral part of sustainable farming.

Unequal position

Female coffee farmers in Kenya

Female coffee farmers in Kenya processing the beans

Both men and women farmers play an important role in the agricultural production process, but women farmers are often not valued as such due to social norms. They can face difficulties to have access to land or tree ownership which is usually necessary to become a member of a cooperative. This again, means they have limited access to information, innovation and resources related to production. Lack of access to these resources means that women farmers are less able to farm sustainably, have lower productivity rates and cannot voice their needs.

“Smallholder farmers in Kenya, like in other coffee producing countries, are generally characterized by limited education, lack of access to extension services and inputs. This makes it difficult for them to reach their potential levels of quantity and quality of the cash crop”, Julius explains. “This situation is often worsened for women due to social norms and values in a men dominated society. In the case of women workers, usually working conditions do not take gender-specific needs into account, such as the right to maternity leave, child care facilities and equal job opportunities.”

Session ‘Mainstreaming gender in projects’ part of a Sector Partnership workshop in Kenya.

The broad impact of gender equality

Sustainable agriculture cannot be achieved without addressing gender inequality. Gender equality is a human right that should be protected. Moreover, it is an effective strategy for economic growth and poverty reduction, as the potential for women to increase their productivity is high. The impact of an improved situation for women can also be felt by the whole community, as women tend to invest their earnings and efforts mostly in the family and the community. Only by ensuring that men and women farmers, smallholders and workers have equal access to and control over knowledge, opportunities and resources, that their rights are respected and that they are able to voice their needs will a sustainable future be possible.

Tackling the issues in partnership

Gender equality can only exist when farmers, workers, communities, local organizations, governments and business work together to promote both gender equality and women’s empowerment. Julius: “The reason why the Rainforest Alliance, with its Sector Partnership (SP) program, collaborates with key stakeholders in different countries, is to share knowledge on the effects of gender inequality and the best practice approaches that can be taken to address these issues in the coffee sector.”

We collaborate with key stakeholders in different countries to share knowledge on the effects of gender inequality and best practices to address these issues in the coffee sector.

In Nicaragua, for example, the Sector Partnership program is working together with Coffee Quality Institute’s Partnership for Gender Equity in a project designed to build women’s leadership skills and economic empowerment. The International Women’s Coffee Alliance [IWCA] is a network of independent organizations in 22 countries aiming to empower and represent women across the global coffee industry. In Uganda, Kenya and Honduras we collaborate with the local chapters of that organization with the aim to strengthen the staff’s organizational capacity and advocacy skills to enable them to promote more gender sensitive policies and strategies on sector level.

Women of the International Women Coffee Alliance in Uganda

“Mainstreaming gender in the coffee value chain makes better business sense.  Building capacity of over 70% of farmers who are women will not only lead to better crop yields and quality but will also improve livelihoods for millions of coffee farming households,” says Julius.

Coffee game on gender equality, part of the Sector Partnership project in Uganda

In Uganda, we are also working together with local actors, like traders. These train both men and women farmers  to look at roles and responsibilities and develop a vision on shared decision making and income distribution within the households. One of the tools being used is the Coffee Game, which combines teaching of gender equality practices and good agricultural practices. Better access to income for women and more time available, will give them equal opportunities and a better future.

What does gender equality mean to you?

If you want to know how a coffee family, businesses and consumers in Central and North America answer this question, then watch ‘Gender in Coffee’ (1:04:30). A trailer (1:17) of this 2018 documentary film by Xavier Hamon and Hannah Stapler can be seen below:

Spread the word

Do you want to know more or tell your customers about how you contribute to addressing gender equality by sourcing UTZ certified ingredients? Check our marketing toolkit on gender equality and use the materials in your communication.