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The dark and bitter world of female coffee farmers

Brazilian coffee worker Maria Da Silva and her son Emerson. Photo by: Karen Robinson/theguardian

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!


jadefrank's picture

Taking your voice to Rio+20!

Dear Farnaz,

Your story on women coffee farmers is insightful and powerful!

Thank you for participating in our Rio+20 initiative and courageously sharing your voice. Your story and recommendations are en route to Rio de Janeiro with our partners at WEDO, and will be presented at the conference to ensure grassroots women's perspectives are included at the negotiating table. Our editorial team is working on an E-magazine for publication next Wednesday which you will receive in your inbox, highlighting selected pieces from our Rio+20 initiative. We will keep you updated on the outcomes of the conference and how you can stay involved as a vocal leader for your community on these issues.

I encourage you to read the stories of your fellow PulseWire sisters and engage in conversation to share experiences, ideas, and best practices for addressing sustainable development issues in your communities.

In friendship and solidarity,

fcalafi's picture

Thanks, Jade!

Thanks, Jade!

Farnaz Calafi

ikirimat's picture

I have enjoyed reading what

I have enjoyed reading what happens in this part of the world.Governments need to protect their citizens equally (women and men) equally by deliberate actions, especially women who are disadvantaged and marginalized. Empowering women and providing credit and organizing them is critical.

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

fcalafi's picture

I agree, thanks for your

I agree, thanks for your comment Grace!

Farnaz Calafi

Cali gal Michelle's picture

in agreement...

I am as one mind with you regarding compensation, cost, and over-cooked coffee. As picky as I am about the coffee I consume each morning, I also think about where those beans came from. Was the worker compensated fairly? Treated fairly? This is also true for the clothes I put on each day. How were those women treated and paid who cut and stitched away?

At least for now, and until I can find a better way to support these workers, I am cognizant of purchasing 'fair trade' when possible, and at least sending up a prayer of thanks and intercession with each sip or zip.

Peace and Hope-

Let us Hope together-
aka: Cali gal


fcalafi's picture

Thank you, Michelle! Wish

Thank you, Michelle! Wish more people thought like you!

Farnaz Calafi

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