Women and Coffee have a very devoted fellowship. The loving hands of women nurture coffee at every stage of the production process and coffee indeed blossoms under their expert care. But most of their contribution is unacknowledged. Playing vital multi-faceted role right from 'seed to cup' by engaging in tasks like harvesting, field-work, sorting, processing, drying etc., women amount to 60% of the workforce engaged in coffee production. Women also have considerable coffee land holdings which are estimated at 30% of the total acreage in the traditional and 50% in the tribal coffee growing regions.
Though these invisible contributions of women to the coffee sector are substantial, neither are they directly benefited by the economic gains of their labour nor are they given the opportunity to be decision makers. This is primarily due to the traditional roles assigned to women that did not encourage right to decision-making or financial freedom. However the circumstances are changing and women are increasingly taking up leadership role in the coffee sector.
Many international institutions across the world as well as Indian Organisations have woken up to the increasing advantage of empowering women and consequently the benefits to agriculture in general and coffee sector in particular. The increased empowerment of women can lead to enhanced skills, increased earnings, access to education and therefore augment the status and quality of life.
Coffee Board of India, has played a seminal role in shaping the coffee sector and as the nodal agency provided impetus to the growth of the coffee industry in India. Acknowledging the essential role of women in coffee it has conceptualised several programmes that is sure to develop women as a valuable contributor to the coffee sector.
Coffee Board providing impetus to Women
The Board is striving to enhance the status of women in the coffee regions and through the X and XI plan schemes floated specific activities benefiting women.
It provides on farm training on coffee cultivation for the women growers and workers. Education stipends for meritorious students are awarded to the children of small growers and plantation workers to pursue higher education and out of which girls amount to 60% of the total beneficiaries.
The Board also provides vocational training on other complimentary occupation like bee keeping, embroidery, mushroom cultivation, fruit processing that has the potential to give additional financial resource. Additionally the Coffee Board of India encourages the entrepreneurship spirit of women by supporting Women Self Help Group (WSHGs) and collectives by financial assistance, moral support and technical knowledge in setting up roast and ground units.
The Board to further enhance women entrepreneurship in coffee, has proposed in the XII Plan, a higher level of support for women in the scheme on support for value addition. This unique proposal once approved, will pave way for providing substantial employment and business opportunities for women in R&G segment across the country.
One of the international organisations striving to empower women and to enhance their status in the international coffee community that requires a special mention is the International Women's Coffee Alliance.
International Women's Coffee Alliance – India Chapter
This unique organisation came into being in 2003 which started with a women only trip to Nicaragua. The objective of the trip was to encourage the understanding of the issues faced by women and also to create connections between women in the entire coffee spectrum.
The travellers were received with overwhelming response through participation and representation of women from diverse backgrounds. They discussed ways to make a difference to women in the coffee sector through trading relationships.
The seeds to form an alliance were sown during this trip. And since 2003, the organisation has taken giant strides and has through its activities and initiatives, achieved a remarkable track record. It has helped women develop skills and competence as well as improved their access to resources, knowledge and finance enhancing their inherent value to the coffee producing chain. It has 10 chapters internationally including Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Kenya and Nicaragua.
IWCA - India Chapter
The enterprising spirit and fortitude of some of the leading women in the Indian coffee sector led to the formation of this remarkable organisation, the India Chapter commenced its operations in the year 2012 and was registered as a charity trust on 10 July 2012. Within a very short time it has not only been able to gain momentum and support from many women and men of the coffee industry but also has started contributing to the cause of women in the sector.
The IWCA – India Chapter, through its initiatives attempts to sustain women's productive participation in coffee farming ensuring food and nutrition and economic security at all levels including household, community and global.
IWCA – India Chapter has been organising health awareness camps, training sessions and events for the cause. While the Alliance focused on health and awareness in the year 2012-2013, the thrust for the year 2013 - 14 is education for the girl child from the traditional coffee regions. In support of this objective, the Alliance organised a Coffee Santhe on January 11 – 12 at the MG Road, Boulevard in Bangalore. The proceeds of this interesting event would be used to fulfil the noble objectives of the Alliance. The Santhe was indeed a resounding success with the participation of many enthusiastic visitors enquiring about coffee, its processes, varieties and methods of making that perfect cuppa!
The membership of IWCA – India chapter is open to anyone willing to work for "empowering Indian coffee women".
Through the efforts and initiatives of such organizations, women who were restricted by limited education and confined to traditional roles will have more opportunities to express themselves, learn new skills and enjoy independence.
Details of the schemes for women by the Coffee Board is available at www.indiacoffee.org
Details on membership of IWCA – India Chapter is available on the website- www.womenscoffeeindia.org.
With inputs from Mrs. Sunalini Menon, Member, International Women's Coffee Alliance (India Chapter) & CEO, Coffeelab