Monday, September 28, 2015

Empowering Women in Coffee

By Christa Michaud, Farmer-to-Farmer Volunteer, Haiti

Christa Michaud conducting gender training
 for coffee farmers in Northern Haiti in March. 
Women in Haiti play a valuable and important role in the country’s coffee sector. They are actively involved in the production, export and selling of coffee, but having minimal access to land, credit, training, and leaderships positions due to gender-based inequities limits their economic opportunities.

In an effort to help build a more gender-inclusive value chain in Haiti’s coffee sector, I traveled to the country as a Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer to assist in the development of a local chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA). Founded in 2003, IWCA is a nonprofit that advocates for women in coffee, and provides a critical forum for them to build and foster relationships, gain essential leadership and technical skills, and access markets. There are currently 19 IWCA chapters around the world, representing more than 16,000 women. 

Gracilia Odeus, a coffee farmer from Thiotte, 
notes strategic priorities for IWCA-Haiti.
Since 2014, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have been helping to lay the groundwork to establish an IWCA chapter in Haiti. In fact, this was my second volunteer assignment towards the effort, the first having taken place earlier this year with gender training workshops and meetings to understand women’s needs. During this assignment, I partnered with women coffee farmers from five different regions throughout Haiti. The goal: Guide them in building the structure and governing documents to develop an IWCA chapter.


In July and August, I led two capacity building workshops with women who formed the organizing committee. The interactive workshops focused on basic concepts essential to managing an organization, including governance, financial management, communications and strategic planning. Through these workshops – and numerous calls and text messages in between – the women created a mission, bylaws and initial strategic plan for IWCA-Haiti.

In addition to workshops, I conducted three field visits to coffee communities in the North (Cap Haitien and Plaisance), Northeast (Mont Òganize), and Central (Baptiste) regions to encourage local support and ownership of the chapter, as well as gain input into its development. But more importantly, the field visits allowed me to interact with women coffee farmers, and hear first hand their needs and challenges.
Idamene Delva listens to women in her community 
providing input into the development of IWCA-Haiti.
Many of the women I met were eager to access technical training to help them boost coffee production and improve quality. For the second year in a row, coffee leaf rust and a drought will cause all farmers to see a significant reduction in the income generated from coffee. As many women depend on coffee to pay their children’s school fees, most worried how they would manage to pay this year, and still meet their daily needs. As a result, women are also interested in learning new skills that will allow them to diversify their income so they do not rely solely on coffee. One of those women is Idamene Delva.

Idamene, born and raised in the Central Plateau, comes from a multigenerational coffee farming family. At 10 years old, she started helping her mother and father cultivate coffee, and at age 20, she began producing it to earn a living for herself. Now a wife and mother of three, Idamene holds a position on the Administrative Council of UCOCAB, a network of eight cooperatives representing 1,200 farmers in the region, about 30 percent of which are women. The only woman on the council, Idamene advocates for increased participation and engagement of women not just in the coffee sector, but all aspects of society. 

Six  members of IWCA-Haiti’s newly 
elected Executive Committee.


Through IWCA, Idamene and other women coffee farmers like her will have access to training and other capacity building opportunities that will empower them to improve their income and more fully contribute to rebuilding Haiti’s ailing coffee sector. Already, their hard work and determination has lead to significant progress in establishing IWCA-Haiti. I’m really excited to see the chapter grow, and watch these women grow into strong leaders bringing about positive change in their lives, families and coffee-growing communities across Haiti.

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