Cafe Femenino - Coffee Helping Social Change

In December 2013 I had the privilege of visiting Peru and Bolivia. I was introduced to the Cafe Femenino project and met with one of its founders Gaye Smith. The visit inspired me to write the book "You can make a difference" . The following is an extract from their website and shows the incredible effort being made to better the lives of women in this part of the world.

The catalyst has been coffee and highlights how the infrastructure created by trading this commodity can be leveraged for so much good above and beyond Fairtrade.

You can purchase this coffee from our store by clicking on the following link

The Cafe Femenino Foundation has been working with CECANOR cooperative since 2005; the program is the largest and most robust to date. These women coffee producers live in small rural communities where there is very little governmental support in the areas of health and education. Due to the poor roadway system, these communities have difficulty accessing outside support. This is especially true during the rainy season. There is also a lack of electricity and telecommunication in most of the communities where the Foundation operates. The Foundation is able to leverage the infrastructure that has been created by the CECANOR cooperative to allow improved access to information, education, and social resources.

Gender inequity is a major concern in Peru. Women are often viewed as less valuable than men in their culture and the domestic abuse rate is very high in rural areas. In 2005, the World Health Organization conducted a multi-country study on domestic violence that included Peru. The findings indicate that 69% of the women located in rural areas near Cusco had experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner. Additionally, only 44% of women in the department of Cusco had at least one year of secondary education.

Project Activities and Outputs

Peru’s Cafe Femenino women’s groups meet once a year to create a work plan that addresses their needs and objectives. From that annual meeting, the following initiatives became the focus of the projects that were requested by the women for 2013:

1) Food Security – Food storage, quinoa, and school community gardens
2) Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment – Safe spaces and leadership workshops
3) Respiratory Health – Improved stoves

Community members have committed to volunteering all labour necessary in order to help keep costs low, as well as to take ownership and make a personal investment in these initiatives. All decisions made in regard to the beneficiaries of each project were made by the Café Femenino Women’s Groups in a democratic process that is intended to empower the women leaders of the communities and also further develop their involvement and organizational experience.


1. Food Security Initiative

These workshops were strategically planned to be implemented in August and September in order to better coincide with the growing season and harvest of local crops.

During the times of harvest, farmers have an abundance of fruits such as oranges, bananas, pineapple, limes, lemons, and passion fruit. When the fruit comes into season there has not been a way to store it for later consumption. If not picked and consumed, fruit will quickly spoil. The prices of fruit are very low during this season but once fruit is preserved, it can be sold at a later date when market prices rise and availability is scarce. The earnings from this sale can make the project sustainable by paying for preservation costs and still having earnings left over to boost the family income.

The participants learned how to work with the existing raw materials they had at their disposal; those fruits and vegetables that already grew on their land. They were trained in simple technologies used for food storage such as canning and pickling procedures. They learned about foods that had high levels of additives and preservatives and how to avoid them in their daily diet in order to improve their overall health.

The workshops included instruction on pickling, canning, juices, and dehydration. Carrots, onions, and cucumbers were used for this first instructional workshop on pickling. The canning workshops included jams, marmalades, and plum sauce. Also included was the preserving of orange juice and dehydration of bananas to make banana chips. The representatives of the Café Femenino Foundation were able to sample these food items and are proud to report that they were delicious. During each workshop, every participant went home with 10 cans, bottles, and/or jars each of products that they conserved. Most importantly, they came away with yet another tool to be able to store food for the times when there are no fresh fruits and vegetables to consume and food is scarce.

Lessons Learned - Food Storage Workshops Project

There were 11 workshops and they took place in remote locations. In most places, there was a lack of electricity and sanitary workspaces. As more community spaces for women are created, the challenges of securing a locale for trainings will become easier. In the future, securing suitable locations for these kinds of workshops will include looking for cleanliness, electricity, and enough space for all the participants. The inclusion of a section on “Best Practices” training for handling food proved to be a very important addition because it underscored the need for a high level of sanitation for the food storage process.

Quinoa Cultivation & Education Project

The objective of this project is to reintroduce quinoa in the areas of coffee cultivation and to promote the incorporation of quinoa in the local diet. Through this project, 50 organic home gardens and three organic school gardens were implemented with a focus on quinoa and amaranth cultivation. A total of seven workshops were given to 580 women members of the coffee associations of ASPAPE and ASPROAGRO from Lambayeque, ASPRO and APCU from Cajamarca, and UCAM and Gran Vilaya in the Amazonas region. Workshops included the following activities:

Educational workshops on the importance of nutrition and how quinoa helps to combat malnutrition.

Training to install quinoa gardens in the members’ homes. Participants learned how to use agronomic techniques for soil preparation, incorporation of decomposed manure, sowing and plant density, planting depth and methods for caring for the crop.

Instruction focused on food preparation and recipes that incorporate quinoa and other grains and vegetables into the regular diet.

Children accustomed to the regular consumption of white rice and carbohydrates now had a new found appreciation for the flavour of quinoa soup.

During the annual Café Femenino Foundation visit to Peru in December 2013, we were shown numerous home gardens of quinoa and amaranth. At that time they were actively growing and harvesting quinoa. The harvested product is currently being incorporated into the family diet to add nutrition. In the future, the women plan to sell the excess quinoa and amaranth they harvest to create an additional income stream for their families.

Lessons Learned - Quinoa Cultivation Project

Some difficulties occurred with the acclimation of the quinoa seed varieties to the local soils and climate, such as the varieties Inia-Salcedo and Pasancalla. Climatic changes brought unusually heavy rains in 2013, followed by periods of intense sun. This meant that in some areas the seedlings died before full maturation. For future projects, rather than distributing seeds, sprouted seedlings will be purchased for new gardens in order to start with a more established plant.

In the area of Guadalupe, there was an infestation of ants which caused several areas to lose their plants. To combat these challenges in the future, prevention measures should be implemented such as using organic repellent, companion planting to decrease the incidence of pests, and installing glue traps for pest control.

Extreme wind conditions also led to losing a few small plotted areas where plants already had significant growth. For future projects a wind shield could safeguard plants from being affected in areas that have a history of strong wind gusts throughout the year.

School Community Gardens Integration in Isolated Areas Project

This project contributes to education and food security. By utilizing school property to plant community gardens the availability of fresh, nutritious food to children is greatly increased. Additionally, it provides an opportunity to educate more children and their families about nutrition and food sustainability combined with agricultural education.

Results: The objectives were to improve the quality of the nutritional and agricultural education for the students of in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Through active learning and integration, 530 children and 190 parents benefited from cultivating these gardens. The project occurred from March through December 2013. Due to the success of this project, there are now plans to expand the varieties of vegetables, to add quinoa, fruit and shade trees, and also coffee plants in the coming year.

Lessons Learned - School Community Gardens Project

Collaboration and mutual commitment among teachers and parents are crucial to the projects’ success or failure. In the case of one school, the project was put on hold due to lack of interest of one teacher to add this to the curriculum. However, the community decided that the project was important enough to hire a new teacher that would incorporate this project into the school.

Additionally, the attitudes of some of the school children toward agriculture were not always favourable. This challenge was evident as the instructors developed curriculum that included agriculture.

Impact - Food Security Initiative

Since the first food security workshop was presented to women farmers in 2009, there has been a large increase of knowledge in rural areas about the topic and continued interest to explore the topic deeper. The earliest stages of these trainings included trainings on basic hand washing for food preparation. With the continued support of this initiative women are now equipped with skills to preserve their own fresh food to consume or sell during times of the year when food is scarce. Families have received training on the importance of a nutritional diet that includes daily portions of fruits and vegetables as well as the benefits of substituting quinoa and amaranth for white rice.

Overall, the participants in these projects are more aware of fresh, highly nutritious foods that they can grow themselves, thereby reducing the amount of money spent outside of the home while diversifying their diet. The ancient grain workshops have created interest, understanding and accessibility to quinoa and amaranth that once played a significant role in the culture and nutrition of previous generations. The Café Femenino Foundation has noticed this change in diet through community visits over the years. In the past, we would be served a simple soup with potato. Now we see dishes of soup filled with vegetables, a plate of salad, and quinoa with meat. The participants are learning that nutritious food is abundant on their land.

The school garden projects effectively combined an educational component with a nutritional benefit for the children. The gardens contributed to diversification of the teacher’s curriculum while incorporating horticulture to subjects such as mathematics, biology, reading, and writing.

Additionally, the community gardens were instrumental in bringing the community together, through a strong collaboration between parents, students, and teachers.

The children’s attitude towards agriculture and rural life was reported to have improved once they were integrated into growing their own school plot. It brought the responsibility to them and created a more in-depth sense of awareness for agriculture, organic production, and nutrition.

The success of food security focused projects since 2009 are shown in the data collected of malnutrition rates spanning the past 3 years. There has been a reduction in the malnutrition rates in the children living in the communities where food security workshops have taken place. The data collected in 2013 continues to support this trend, showing malnutrition rates have decreased and the incidence of malnutrition are declining.

Based off the experience of growing and cooking with quinoa through a multi-year Quinoa Cultivation project, Mercedes Uriarte Latorre, a registered nurse and board member of the Café Femenino Foundation in Peru, published a book that documents the history, biology, cultivation, nutritional value, and uses of quinoa. It includes recipes that were taught to the women members during the workshops. The book is called La Quinua: Reina de los Cereales, (Quinoa, Queen of Grains) published in December of 2012. Copy available in PDF format.


2. Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment Initiative - Community Spaces for Women

The women’s group of Peru has been making incredible strides forward. Now that the women are organized, they are attending meetings and trainings regularly. One difficulty that they faced was a lack of access to a space where they could conduct training sessions and meet to discuss their challenges, projects, and discuss future plans. This community space for women, called Casa Café Femenino [Café Femenino House], is managed by the women and serves as a place that does not have to be borrowed from the men. This provides self-determination and control over the setting.

Each Casa Café Femenino is equipped to serve as a temporary shelter for battered or abused women and children, with future plans to serve as a community soup kitchen.

Community Centre Space in the Community Bank in Agua Azul: This project’s focus was to make improvements on an already existing building which struggled to adequately provide the space and needs for group meetings. Funds were used primarily for construction materials to expand the meeting area, improve the internal conditions of the building, provide electricity, and build a bathroom. Construction was completed in December 2013. This space now provides a cleaner, more adequate area for women leaders to gather, hold community bank meetings, and offer workshops for the community.

Lessons Learned - Community Spaces for Women Projects

The challenges faced with these building projects were mainly reflected in construction timing. As the construction began with the volunteer labour force of the three communities, the work was put on hold during the coffee harvest, delaying construction for three months. Once work started again, heavy rains caused stoppages on a few occasions. These are challenges that the project managers were able to work with and push through to complete construction in December.

Leadership Workshops Project

This project developed the leadership skills for the regional leaders, called Secretarias de la Mujer, of each association within CECANOR. In total, 32 women leaders participated in 11 workshops. These leaders and other delegates represent the associations of ASPRO in La Florida, ASPROAGRO in Kañaris, ASPAPE in Penachi, UCAM & Gran Vilaya in Lonya Grande, and APCU in Utcubamba. It additionally further supported the election of women leaders to political offices.

Results: The objectives of the project were twofold. First, the project aimed to develop the skills of the women leaders as promoters. In this role, they are in charge of returning to their local coffee organizations with information and education to share with the entire group. These leaders brought their newly acquired skills to their associations, where they work to improve the participation of women in management levels of the producer organizations. Although the number of women involved in the organization has increased over time, active participation and involvement in the management of the governing bodies has remained weak. As a result, there is need to develop skills to teach other women in their remote communities by using a “Women Teaching Women” approach to disseminate the learned leadership skills.

Second, during the Leadership Workshops, the women members of the CECANOR cooperative discussed the proposed bylaws governing the Women’s Associations for each of their organizations and then the Statutes of the Association in the Regional Assembly were adopted. This meeting facilitated a discussion that moved the idea of creating a legal organization (Women’s Association) inside of the cooperative organization. This legal organization was ratified by the cooperative.

Lessons learned from the Leadership Workshops Project

The logistics for this project where challenging due to the extensive distances between the four regions represented by the delegates and lack of adequate meeting spaces with access to food, lodging for the delegates during travel, sanitation facilities, and electricity. These logistical difficulties increased project costs.

Another challenge was the time taken to attend the workshops. The women leaders expressed that they had little time to devote to training and capacity building because they are also responsible for all the domestic chores and work on their farms. This problem is at the heart of the gender inequity issue.

Finally, the low level of education is evident in the majority of women leaders, requiring adjustments to how the leadership trainings are conducted. Continual educational and leadership development programs are needed to advance the leadership, problem solving, and communicating abilities of these promoters.

Impacts - Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment Initiative

The first level of impact is the noticeable improvement in the management of the Women’s Associations. Second, the project coordinators report that they have noticed an increase in active participation of women within their local, first-level cooperatives, and that more women are assuming leadership roles. In fact, two women were democratically elected to serve on the Executive Boards of their cooperatives. One of the women was elected Executive Director of the ASPRO coffee association, something that had never occurred in the past. These projects also provide a pathway for women to assume leadership positions in local and regional community organizations.

The ratification of the Women’s Association as a new legal entity was a major impact of the project. It has generated a greater commitment of the women to participate and use their voice. Additionally it provides recognition, on many levels, of the importance of the women’s presence and participation within the cooperative. This will allow for a more comprehensive incorporation and understanding of women’s situation in all four regions where CECANOR operates in the coming years.

Additionally, the gender equality initiative has contributed to an increase in the value placed on the work that women do and their ability to manage a diverse amount of projects. The result of this is demonstrated in reports that women are taking control and managing larger amounts of the family land, specifically for coffee production, which creates a major shift in household economics. This initiative has also contributed to the increase in how much coffee women have sold to the organization thereby increasing the women’s access to market.

Finally, the “Women Teaching Women” model has been well received by the members of the Women’s Associations. This model does two things. First, it gives the project the ability to disseminate information to more women, and second, it builds the respect that is held for the women delegates of each region. This project helped participants feel more prepared and confident to actively and vocally participate, as well as assume management responsibilities. This is evidenced in the first female Executive Director to be elected to the Board of Directors of one of the 6 coffee organizations that make up CECANOR cooperative.

In 2005, the World Health Organizations multi-country study on domestic violence reflected a 69% rate of domestic violence in rural areas of Peru. During a December 2013 visit by the Foundation the women leaders were polled to find out if domestic violence still continues for them. This group of women were a sample that consisted of three women per coffee community; all from different regions for a total of 45 women. What we found was that there was no longer anyone affected (of that group of 45 leaders in the room) by domestic violence. The women reported that the cases were very few and not usual in their communities. They attributed this change to the gender-equity focus of the projects as well as the education the women and men received over the years. This reduction in domestic violence, as perceived by the women members of the group, was attributed to an incremental, societal change to the continual education to both genders on the value of women, and seeing this value in the increased participation and leadership roles that the women members are assuming.

During meetings we attended in the Dominican Republic and Peru with both men and women in attendance we asked about domestic violence in the community. The men talked about how the educational workshops that have been given through the cooperative helped them to understand that domestic violence is wrong. They state that there is peer pressure from other men in the community to stop the domestic violence and that they believe that it is not acceptable.

3. Respiratory Health Initiative - Kitchen Stove Improvement Project

The family kitchens in the coffee communities are typically small rooms with no windows, no lighting, and a low ceiling. The walls and ceilings are coated with black soot from the traditional, on the ground campfire style stove that serves as a cooking surface. Because the food preparation is usually conducted by the women of the family, the incidence of respiratory illness in women of this region is high.

According to a statement by the project coordinator of this project, 60% of the members of the CECANOR organization are affected by respiratory related problems. Children are also exposed to the smoke including the babies who are most likely to spend time in close proximity of their mothers in a cradle in the kitchen. The children are at a higher risk of burns from the open flames, as they often congregate in the kitchen so that their mothers can care for them.

Results: 40 kitchens were selected to be improved with stoves that were enclosed, raised off the ground, and connected to a chimney to vent the smoke outside. These 40 stoves were installed in San Antonio, Nueva York, and Guadalupe, all in the state of Amazonas. Every woman who was awarded a new stove participated in educational workshops on the health effects of the use of wood stoves; a total of 60 women and 30 youth participated in the workshops.


Lessons Learned - Kitchen Stove Improvement Project

The coordination to transport and distribute the construction materials requires a large amount of communication. However, this project was implemented smoothly.

Impacts – Respiratory Health Initiative

One impact of this initiative is that the improved stoves are now being used by the women, which results in an immediate reduction in the amount of smoke exposure faced by family members. It is estimated by the project coordinator in-country that 60% of the women in Andean coffee communities are adversely affected by kitchen smoke. With the addition of this project, there are now 111 improved stoves positively affecting the women and their families of this organization through the efforts of the Foundation over time. Of The 370 women living in the area where the improved stoves project is taking place, 111 women have benefited because they are all a part of the coffee organization. This equates to a 30% decrease in the amount of women and children exposed to toxic smoke within this area. The remaining 259 women in the area are not affiliated with the women’s groups. There is an application underway to request from the government a solution for the remaining 259 women in this coffee community.

The stoves were effectively installed so that smoke will travel out the chimney. The reduction in smoke provides immediate relief to the eyes and lungs of the people breathing it. In the long term, we expect to see a reduction in respiratory illnesses in women and children due to reduced exposure to smoke.

Additionally, this project was a good exercise in democratic decision making. The Women’s Association members had to decide who was going to be the beneficiaries of these stoves. They were required to lead the project by organizing themselves. They developed their project management skills in determining how the materials would be delivered, how the project was implemented, and why it was important.

Impacts – Peru Country Program

Projects such as these benefit the whole family and create visibility for the women as they become coordinators, manage activities, and are valued for the work they do.

The projects provide a pathway for women to assume leadership positions in their homes, in local organizations, and regionally. They are seen as a set of opportunities for women to do new things -- whether entering into projects that are typically administered by men or being involved in new sources of education. There has been an increase in the amount of land women are managing over the past two years.

These projects entail supporting women in a culture that traditionally supports male interests. They require training and shifting perceptions at the household and community levels. These projects are driven by the aim to empower women to reduce the inequities they face as they advance with increased training and take on leadership roles.

Experiences from different communities can now be shared and expressed in a more formalized way with the incorporation of the legal entity known as the Women’s Association of CECANOR. Women will have a voice - at the regional level for the exchange of experiences, training, information, and decision-making in addition to the annual Cafe Femenino Planning Session.

As the women become more organized, confident and capable, they participate more in the coffee organization. There has been an increase in the amount of coffee that women are bringing to the cooperative to sell and an increase in the amount of coffee women are able to get to the market. The amount of women and the amount of qunitales have increased since 2005.

There have been several other Foundation projects that have been implemented and carried out in these coffee communities in addition to those funded by GMCR this year. For example, five Early Education Centres focusing on the academic stimulation of children five years and younger were started in 2013 with funds from other donors. These centres also have a goal of providing health information at a centralized location, training facilitators and collecting health data on the children.

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