We’re back in business Part I: “Better Coffee and Gender Justice Must Go Together”

In late 2015 Coffee Kids re-opened its doors and started operating as a program of Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung North America. Soon after, we began working towards the ambitious goal of helping young people in coffee growing communities to develop sustainable incomes. Here’s an update since Coffee Kids’ resumed programming.

The first major task was visiting program sites for the initiatives we wished to launch first: Tanzania, and Trifinio (border region of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador).

I visited Tanzania early February to see one of our project sites and to meet with some of the participants that will be part of the first Coffee Kids project in Africa.  Our project site is near Usa River, a town 200 miles north west of the capital, Dar es Salaam. Within minutes of meeting with the members of the local youth group and hearing their thoughts, I was struck by how committed they were to agriculture.  I have come across many young people who are not excited about that prospect of an inevitable future in agriculture.  These youth, however, were clear about what they need to be able to move forward in agriculture: access to seeds and fertilizers, farming equipment, and finance.  Some owned land, and others owned land but also had to rent additional land to increase production. There were many uncertainties about how they would formalize their group as a coffee growers association, but their raw commitment was there, as was an appreciation that they could be more effective together than alone.

Women farmers carry out 70% of agricultural work in East Africa, yet have access to only 15% of the income from agriculture. I am excited to work with this and other motivated groups in the area.   I can tell that they are going to push us all very hard.   They already told the translator that I speak too fast and don’t write enough down.

Although I was inspired by the group’s commitment to agriculture, I was surprised to find that there were no young women at this meeting.  I was told that they had three women members when the group was formed, but that the women had stopped coming to meetings.  It was clear that in addition to training, mentoring, and seed capital, those missing members also needed to be considered.  Earlier in the week I attended a Gender and Coffee Summit in Dar es Salaam with a tag line: “Better Coffee and Gender Justice Must Go Together.”

The Summit materials stated that women farmers carry out 70% of agricultural work in East Africa, yet have access to only 15% of the income from agriculture. Women are often excluded from membership in producer organizations due to not complying with the requirements for membership – in some cases land ownership or a minimum number of coffee trees planted.  Exclusion from membership means exclusion from services – technical assistance, attendance at trainings and direct access to inputs in some cases, leaving women to rely on second-hand information from members that would be more effective if learned first-hand. It was clear that any work focused on youth has to apply a gender lens, or it risks replicating some of the same practices that exclude women, both young and old.

I walked away from both the Summit and meeting with the youth group with a lot to consider: how we currently tackle gender through the process of training trainers, choosing training formats, time and location, choosing mentors, deciding on decision making committee membership for selecting projects that will be awarded seed capital, and more. As we work through these issues and develop the Tanzania program,  we will share more about our programs we will also occasionally include how we have chosen to address this issue.  Feel free to share your ideas with us too.

 

I visited Tanzania early February to see one of our project sites and to meet with some of the participants that will be part of the first Coffee Kids project in Africa. Our project site is near Usa River, a town 200 miles north west of the capital, Dar es Salaam. Within minutes of meeting with the members of the local youth group and hearing their thoughts, I was struck by how committed they were to agriculture. I have come across many young people who are not excited about that prospect of an inevitable future in agriculture.

Young men from the Usa River youth group. A young person in Tanzania is age 15-34 which includes anyone who is unmarried and living within their familial home.

 

This post is Part I of our series “We’re back in business.” Stay tuned for more posts in the series as we walk you through our first year back in action.