Women around the world are the backbone of global agricultural production, making up almost half of the worldwide agricultural workforce. In some countries, that number goes as high as 70%. Women play a vital role in getting food to our table, and yet because of deep gender inequalities, many of those women aren’t able to realize their full potential, both as workers and as community members.
From earning little (to sometimes no income) to lack of representation in leadership roles to access and control of land, women in agriculture face many obstacles. Tackling those obstacles provides an opportunity for change. Today, it’s estimated that eliminating the gap between men and women in access to agricultural resources would increase the yields on women’s farms by 20% to 30% and increase agricultural production in developing countries by up to 4%. If we can put the correct policies in place that empower women, the future is female.
As part of that agricultural web, coffee is an industry dependent on the work of women around the globe, making gender equity an essential part of the sustainable coffee supply chain. “Most of the obstacles faced by women coffee farmers are the same as those found across the agriculture sector,” says Nick Watson, a coffee-sector adviser with the International Trade Centre, who has an initiative focused on women in coffee. “Social norms often discriminate against women in rural areas leading to disproportionate land and asset ownership; household and income decision making; time and labor distribution; access to information and training; and participation and leadership in rural organizations or as registered suppliers to agribusinesses.”
Despite these obstacles, it’s often thanks to women that the coffee production happens in the first place. “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.
“When women are given opportunities for growth in both position and pay, I’ve seen first-hand, they stretch their dollar the farthest,” says Johnson. She cites several promising examples in different origin countries, from the Los Andes Coffee and Tea Reserve in Guatemala, where gender equity training has empowered women both socially and economically, providing access to health care for their family and the financial capability to maintain a local primary school.
Building more gender equity requires a multi-pronged approach, and this starts at the production level. While they make up a large part of the global agricultural labor force, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations study, female farmers receive only 5% of agricultural extension services, in other words, agricultural training.