The dark and bitter world of female coffee farmers
The other day, I bought latte from a major coffee chain store for $4.47. The price didn’t seem fair, especially because the coffee tasted burnt and I had to wait in a long line to get it. But just when I started to feel annoyed for wasting a good chunk of my time and nearly 5 bucks on a burnt coffee, I remembered a recent article I had read about the average salary of female coffee farmers in developing countries. It’s about $3 dollars a day; nearly $2 less than my disappointing latte. Albeit their miniscule salary wasn’t the only sad part. The article also described the horrible working conditions and gender bias practices that these women had to deal with on daily basis. Too bad, I thought to myself, that most coffee corporations are making monstrous profits while getting away with paying and treating their female farmers, who are the backbone of their industry, fairly.
Today, 90 percent of coffee production takes place in developing countries, while the majority of coffee consumption is in industrialized countries. Globally, women make up over 70 percent of all the coffee farmers. In some countries, this percentage is even higher. For instance in Ethiopia, the sixth largest coffee producing country, nearly 80 percent of coffee farmers are women.
The average coffee worker gets a minimum wage of less than $3 a day. Ironically, this is how much the average American spends on coffee per day. But getting an equivalent to sweatshop wage is not the sole issue for these farmers. They also have to work under repulsive conditions. Long hours of work, migrating from one field to another, sleeping in temporary shelters on bunk beds, as well as cooking, washing and bathing from the same water source are typical.
And while globally, coffee consumption and prices are on a rise, wages for coffee farmers have not increased. So where are the profits going? Obviously, not to those who do the bulk of the work. No doubt, major changes are needed.
Firstly, governments and policy makers need to ensure better and safer working environments for all coffee farmers. They need to ensure that these farmers have access to affordable healthcare, dependable childcare and educational centers.
They also need to set rules against the male chauvinism that is too prevalent in most coffee farms. Many female farmers come to work with their children. They juggle family life, motherhood and work all on the same ground. As such, they need to be treated with extra attention, care and respect, not discrimination.
And most of all, governments and policy makers need to hold the lucrative coffee industries responsible for paying higher wages to coffee farmers. This is the sole solution for saving these farmers from poverty.
As a woman who drinks coffee everyday, I really don't wish to be reminded that my morning cup of java equals another woman’s salary for a long, arduous, physically and emotionally draining workday. I can think of better ways to start the day!