Women supporting women! Honduran coffee farmers visit Colombia in learning exchange

Women have always worked in coffee, but oftentimes their contributions are sidelined or go unrecognized. A recent learning exchange in Colombia brought together women coffee farmers from Honduras and Colombia to share their experiences and learn from one another.

women coffee farmers from Colombia and Honduras

Solidaridad teamed up with the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) to lead the exchange where women shared their experiences and knowledge of coffee.

The exchange was held in Cauca, a prominent coffee growing region in Colombia, where the Honduran contingent could learn about the local context, technological developments, organizational models, and innovations in the Colombian coffee sector. The Honduran delegation shared their experiences in marketing, differentiated products and sustainable business models.

Overcoming limitations, confronting challenges in the coffee supply chain

With just women participating, many said they felt less shy about asking questions, and more confident that they could replicate the advice. 

Women have always worked in the coffee sector, however, there are specific barriers that make it difficult for women to access equal opportunities. Solidaridad is working to counteract these challenges, including:

  • Access to land: Women still face both family and social barriers to inheriting land. For women who are able to buy land, their choices are limited to smaller plots of lower quality land or land with unproductive soils.
  • Less profitable positions: Most women in the coffee sector are restricted to less lucrative – but no less essential – activities including sowing, tending the farm, harvesting or becoming baristas. More profitable jobs, such as transporting, processing, transforming, marketing and exporting coffee are often out of reach. 
  • Social context: The migration crisis has resulted in many women becoming heads of households and needing to quickly learn how to manage their land, yet they often lack access to extension services and training.

Solidaridad is currently working with national coffee organizations in Honduras to help women clear up land titles and access plots of land. The learning exchange is part of addressing the other two points; it allowed them to learn about more profitable options in the value chain, and hear about stories of resilience, leadership and opportunities within their communities that inspired them to empower themselves.

Learning exchange: An opportunity to share, learn and grow

During the learning exchange participants heard keynote speeches, learned about technological innovations, and shared experiences on women’s organizations, unions and leadership. In addition, they learned about financial mechanisms, such as revolving funds, negotiation, and growth paths for their businesses. But not everything was formal, there was also space for singing together, home visits and group meals.

The Honduran and Colombian coffee sectors have similar challenges and opportunities, and both have gender policies in place to create greater equity. In Honduras, the gender policy was developed at the beginning of 2022, with Solidaridad among the main collaborators. IHCAFE ratified its commitment to implementation at Specialty Coffee Expo 2022 in Boston. 

“Both countries’ gender policies seek the same thing: to strengthen institutions, leadership and promote access and control of resources for women,” says Melissa López of Solidaridad.

Building community among women

While learning from one another’s experiences, they were creating bonds through a variety of activities including:

  • Visits to communities where Colombian coffee smallholders generate social impact through community support, such as the construction of a school.
  • Learning first-hand from the success of a woman coffee farmer who is now the president of the board in her community. 
  • Getting to know a women coffee farmers’ association that has improved the quality of their organic coffee that now sells at a better price thanks to steady leadership and the use of a revolving fund.
Women coffee smallholders share experiences and knowledge

At the close of the exchange, most participants agreed that the participation of women in productive activities opens up possibilities for exercising leadership in other spaces, including the family sphere, their community and in the coffee-growing union.

Now it’s time to replicate!

Now, the participants have returned home, they are excited and eager to replicate the knowledge from the learning exchange in their own communities. 

“I learned that we are agents of change, that we should keep up to date on coffee issues and bring all this knowledge and technology we acquired to the other women in our community,” one of the participants told us.

Honduran smallholders wish to replicate their learning in their own communities

At Solidaridad we believe that the learning exchange will yield positive results for the coffee sector and for the women who work in it. 

“We want to improve the Honduran coffee sector while helping women coffee smallholders become more resilient,” says Sofía Núñez of Solidaridad.