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USAID study highlights women’s role in South-East Asian coffee industry

A new study from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Green Invest Asia, in collaboration with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), illustrates how female entrepreneurs are advancing the South-East Asian coffee industry.

The study covers four countries: Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The IWCA says women’s contributions to these industries are often overlooked.

“The historical lack of visibility of women in coffee might lead one to significantly underestimate their role across the industry,” IWCA President Kellem Emanuele says.

“But women are there, leading from farm to table to podium. And the more rapidly we increase their recognition and engagement as critical solution partners to any of the challenges facing the industry – the sooner we will experience meaningful, positive impact across coffee communities.”

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In Vietnam, the world’s largest producer of Robusta coffee, women lead at least half of all domestic trading companies.

“While in many cases businesses are owned by men, women are the point of contact to negotiate with farmers and buyers. They are believed to be better negotiators,” Volcafe Vietnam Sourcing Manager Do Thi Quynh says.

The IWCA says contrary to the belief women working in the coffee sector are mostly growers, the study found that in Indonesia, the world’s fourth largest coffee producer, women lead an estimated 22 per cent of cooperatives and own or lead 25 per cent of specialty roasters.

In 2017, Indonesia exported US$1.7 billion in coffee. Women-led businesses account for four per cent of Indonesia’s coffee exporters.

Almost all Indonesian female-led businesses interviewed reported revenue growth, with one-third reporting growth of at least 20 per cent.

South-East Asia grows roughly one-quarter of the world’s coffee beans. The Philippine Coffee Board says female farmers often have a better eye for detail.

“Women are more meticulous in picking and sorting, tasks that are key determinants of quality,” says Robert Francisco, Consultant to the Philippine Coffee Board.

USAID Green Invest Asia is a platform with a gender-lens focus in South-East Asia, linking investors with sustainable agriculture and forestry businesses.

“Coffee is still widely seen as a ‘men’s crop’,” says study author, Caterina Meloni, USAID Green Invest Asia’s gender and social inclusion advisor.

“Female farmers are referred to as ‘the farmer’s wife’. This study shows another side to the industry, one where men are the ‘coffee trader’s husband’ and the ‘partner of the third-wave café owner’. Increasing women’s participation along all parts of the supply chain can only invigorate and advance the coffee sector.”

The study can be downloaded HERE.

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