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Opinion: Gender, Market Access

Empowering Women in Uganda’s Coffee Sector

Benjamin Okia Benjamin Okia

“Traditionally, the coffee was for a man and women were not benefitting anything from it.” 

23-year-old Hildah Turyamusiima is a mother and coffee farmer from Kanungu, a major coffee growing region in western Uganda.

The high altitude, tropical climate and fertile soil provide ideal conditions for coffee production. Yet despite its profit-making potential, Hildah – like many other women in the region – was unable to make a sufficient living through coffee farming.

The average female farmer earns 38 per cent less than their male counterparts in Kanungu’s coffee sector, according to a new report from Farm Africa – a pay difference that only becomes more profound when looking at the division of labour. Women contribute 58 per cent of the labour during the fieldwork and harvest stage of coffee production, and 72 per cent during post-harvest handling. 

So, if women are the backbone of Kanungu’s coffee sector, why are they not able to reap the rewards of their hard labour?

Although women undertake the majority of the work involved in growing, harvesting and drying the coffee, men have a near monopoly over the mechanised processing and marketing activities. Men’s dominance over this segment of the value chain puts them in a position where they make the final sale and receive the payment, often excluding women from participating in financial decisions. 

Other significant cultural and financial barriers also prevent women from accessing land, coffee trees, cooperatives and capital to grow their businesses.

Strengthening women’s autonomy

With funding from the European Union and aid from the UK government, Farm Africa has been addressing these issues by working with female coffee farmers, coffee growing cooperatives and local authorities to close the gender gap in Kanungu’s coffee industry and provide women with greater autonomy at the household, farm and cooperative level.

The project has helped women save and invest in their businesses by providing access to financial resources through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) – groups where women can save together and share financial resources – and by linking female coffee producers to formal financial institutions and coffee growing cooperatives. 

Hildah Turyamusiima leading a VSLA meeting. Photo credit: Farm Africa / Jjumba Martin

Voluntary household land-use agreements have also been introduced through the initiative. Often, daughters in Kanungu receive markedly less land than sons, or are totally excluded from land agreements. The Farm Africa project team has therefore been working with families to ensure that women have control over a designated portion of land to grow their coffee on.

This includes 480 model households that have been identified by the team to champion the uptake of voluntary land-use agreements and demonstrate the benefits to their communities.

Transforming attitudes and dispelling myths

Alongside providing women with resources, Farm Africa has focused its efforts on changing attitudes and unpicking myths surrounding women’s value and contributions to the coffee industry, which fuel gender inequality in the sector. 

The Gender Action Learning System Approach (GALS) brings women together with male decision-makers to explore the economic and social benefits of empowering women. It trains participants on how working together more equitably can help achieve household and coffee production goals, spotlighting how households stand to gain from providing women with access to economic activities and control over the proceeds. 

The project has seen positive results so far, with a Farm Africa survey on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agriculture (WEEIA) finding that 89 per cent of the 348 female participants claimed to actively participate in the decision-making on agricultural production, compared to only 22 per cent in 2019.

Hildah Turyamusiima using the Gender Action Learning System Approach (GALS). Photo credit: Farm Africa / Jjumba Martin

Hildah Turyamusiima has been active in the scheme and has seen a positive change since participating in the project, establishing a land-use agreement with her husband and becoming a trainer on GALS so that other women within her community can have more say over coffee production and household expenditure. Hildah has also taken on the role of treasurer in her coffee growing cooperative, to influence the decisions and policies that favour women.

“Farm Africa has trained us on GALS, which involves creating a vision for the future. My goal is to buy a car and build a family house with my husband using the savings from our coffee sales. Our plan is to sell our coffee directly to exporters for better prices,” she said. 

Although the Covid-19 pandemic affected coffee prices and delayed Hildah’s plans to earn enough to build a new family home by 2021, she is confident of achieving her goal in 2022.

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  1. Julie Melville says:

    Good Morning From Idaho, USA

    I have been working on my final project for a solid week, literally sitting in my chair trying to write it. It would not come together. I decided to reframe around the Sen Capability Approach to helping women raise that space that enables them so succceed. First search this morning and your article on women and coffee farming deonstrates exactly what I was looking for – thank you! VSLA’s alongside something like Kiva fit. Thanks you. It’s due today!

  2. Juile Melville says:

    As I wrote earlier, your article was very helpful. I always hope that the opportunities for men to be uplifted, at the same time. I’m sure you feel similar. Wouldn’t this be the perfect world!

    A quick discussion added this, “It’s important to note that empowering women does not imply disadvantaging or marginalizing men. Instead, it aims to create a more inclusive and equitable society that benefits everyone. When women are empowered, it contributes to a more balanced distribution of power, resources, and opportunities, which can result in positive outcomes for men and the entire community.”