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Peru and Bolivia Cafe Femenino December 2013

Understanding more about the Café Femenino Foundation

After trading coffee for 3 years at DR Wakefield, time was coming for me to visit our coffee producers in Peru and Bolivia in a really different way than usual. This trip was indeed related with coffee but mainly focused on the social aspect of the communities, through the Café Femenino Program. People who don’t know this program can think that it is just another social certification helping women as feminism act, IT IS NOT, it is much more.  Café Femenino does exit since 2004 and the idea is to give a financial incentive to women who deliver coffee to cooperatives which is beneficial for them but most of all for their families. They mainly invest money in the coffee plantations and in the education of their children. It improves the way they manage their revenue and it also helps them to get a better coffee quality. Café Femenino Foundation, created nine years ago, serves so many producers and their families which I saw myself as I was in some of the communities where it does change their life!

What is Café Femenino

The Café Femenino Foundation was founded in 2004. Behind the impetus to create a foundation that was focused on helping women and their families in coffee communities was Garth and Gay Smith, who in 2004 were importing and selling organic and fair trade coffees from around the world. What they found in traveling to these remote coffee communities was women who had no voice or say in any family decisions, had no control of the family resources; essentially had no rights, socially, politically, or economically. They were poor, uneducated, and lived in isolation, all of which contributed to phenomenal rates of abuse. Though the Smith’s no longer import coffee, they are still committed to the mission of helping coffee families around the world through the Café Femenino Foundation.

Helping women out of poverty

Some people can wonder to what degree the poverty scale. We all know that the majority of coffee producing countries have totally different conditions of life, really unstable and basic.  One of the aims of this trip was to confirm that we can work with producers and help them living in better conditions to secure their lives and families. Café Femenino program allows it because its strength is the commitment for both parties – producers getting more responsible to deliver the best coffee they can and also roasters agreeing a fair price (above cost of production)as well as long term relationship and willingness of supporting them by founded projects.

Love, care and support are where Isabelle and Victor from CECANOR got their role in the story of “Café Femenino”.  It was the first time that I met Isabelle in her country and I can confirm that she is a real leader, a manager and a mum for all these women who now have a better life since she came with this idea and set it up with the help of Gay from Optco. In December 2004, they founded Café Femenino program within CECANOR/PROASSA and nine years later it was a privilege to visit the women who change life of many producers by improving their quality of life.

First step, we took the direction of Lima and then Chiclayo where CECANOR dry mill is located. There, we cup some of their best seasonal coffee. With their three cuppers, we identify the different characteristics of the Cafe Femenino coffee per community. Their main work is to produce one unique balanced and consistent coffee by blending several community coffees. The next two days, along with Faces foundation, The Lions Club International, Cafe Femenino Fundation and CECANOR, we visited several remote communities where donations and projects have been completed.

The Faces Foundation,Foundation for the Advancement of Cleft Education and Services ( which is represented by Dr Tom created a medical project for kids of the villages. Dr Tom is the one who thought about this project after travelling several times in Peru and meeting Gay, the founder of the Cafe Femenino. He uses his surgical skills to help children with cleft palates. Although cleft lip and palate is one of the most common birth defects in the world, that doesn’t make living with one any easier. This is the reason why he gives every child a chance to get a better life as they never could believe. Dr Tom is perceived as a Modern Jesus when he arrives in villages. He is the hope that farmers are waiting for to keep their families alive, or for a mother wishing to see her children in good health. All these moments I shared with Dr Tom and farmers are just so strong emotionally that they are indefinable but make me just think “these people need our support”.

Lions International Club ( the largest NGO on the planet is also involved with Cafe Femenino. This organisation gathers recycled glasses collected from optician stores in the USA. They calibrate them and they come several times a year in Peru to donate glasses to farmers. Last year, they gave 140 pairs of glasses to farmers in Coral de Piedra, a village in Lambayeque region. This year, they donated 40 glasses to producers in Naranjo community, all done in a small shed. They inspected eyes of every person, then pass am eye test, reading test and giving them glasses. See a smile on individual’s face whose life has been changed makes me shed tears.

School visit in Coral de piedra

We visited one of a recent built preschool in Coral de piedra where 17 kids from 3 to 5 years old have the chance to study with a professional teacher and educational materials. In this village women were still dressed traditionally and have on average 5 kids each. We also went to see a quinoa garden project as producers work on a nutrition program to reduce malnutrition.

We were warmly welcomed by the Naranjo producers (S0603767 W07928488)
where we celebrate the organic coffee year dancing and singing the national anthem to be thankful of being members of CECANOR. They cooked for us a big meal with all their own grown organic food including beef (with the cow head hanging at the end of the table). At the end, we served a “chocolatada”, another project funded by Cafe Femenino, which is to deliver Christmas bread, hot chocolate and books to hundreds of children. It brings so much joy to see all these smiles on children and mother faces. Talking to theses remote famers, 5 hours drive from Chiclayo, makes me realise that they are proud and happy tobe coffee producers and members of Cecanor.

Visiting Agua Azul

I visited another village called Agua Azul located in “La Florida” community, 3 hours drive from Chiclayo in the north. There, we went to a coffee plantation owned by one of the Cafe Femenino representative Sabrina. We met her husband as she was not there but attending at the Café Femenino Annual Meeting in Chiclayo city. He talked about his wife as an exceptional woman calling her “the boss” of the house! Her coffee farm is so healthy that you can find a full range of vegetables and fruits. Thanks to the Cafe Femenino foundation, they also have a new stone cooker that changed considerably their habits and they are now able to cook without being covered by smokes which reduces significantly sickness. Part of the Cafe Femenino program is to teach them how to be auto sufficient for instance by breeding guinea pigs, chickens and cows. The premium received by women producer is usually invested in kid education. On the other side, producers are supported by a NGO called CICAP regarding trainings and workshops to maintain quality and yield production.

In fact, all coffee is organically produced so farmers struggle to get a full harvest as sometimes there are strong diseases which can be only killed with pesticides or by cutting down the trees to avoid their spread. Every year, a representative from a group of producer audits another community of the cooperative in order to ensure that they meet the Fairtrade and Organic standards, internally inspected. They constantly think about improving and getting best coffee as they know the quality is the priority for the sustainability of CECANOR and CAFE FEMENINO.

Off to Peru

I finished my trip in Peru by attending to the general annual Cafe Femenino meeting. It was just amazing to observe these women who were so responsible and also giving so many ideas about their future requests. First part was a brainstorming for the 2014 projects and then presentations of all work completed the previous year.

They really see the impact on their work where the objective is to maintain the coffee world distribution and expand it for better opportunities.

Cafe Femenino is such a success with Cecanor in Peru that Optco decided to copy this program in other countries as Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Bolivia since 2008. They also developed projects in these countries and they elected a representative like Isabelle from Cecanor in every cooperative. Of course, depending on cultures some conditions of the program are differently applied to the producers. Obviously, I could not leave South America without visiting our Bolivia coffee partner Union Proagro, a primary cooperative founded in 2001 and part of Cafe Femenino Program. After landing in La Paz, located in at 4,008 masl where the altitude and all these beautiful people in the street make me feel in a different world. From one of the highest point in the country, we drove on one of the world renowned dangerous road to lead us to the coffee valley in Caranavi. This same road used to transport coffee to El Alto. After passing from the cold freezing weather at the highest point, then down to the valley, we were stuck on the road among the trucks once our car breakdown, after pushing our car and repair it for 1 hour. Of course, with my big muscles I was the main one who could help pushing 😉 We get to our final destination after a 6 hours drive.

Over 20 cooperatives in Caranavi

Caranavi is the main coffee place of the country where there are 20 different cooperatives. It is a city where the tribes “Aymara” from El Alto immigrated in 1950. They were attracted by this area because they got free lands where they could grow citrus, orange and of course coffee. They moved there by horses and mules bringing their main provisions, corn and rice, to survive. Nowadays, majority of these people are coffee producers. All coffees are grown organically, certified Fair trade and produced from 900 to 1,600 masl among 10 remote communities. In the low lands, coffee has been replaced little by little by “achiote” or other fruits as it did not grow well, this is why they focus coffee production in higher altitude to get better quality and more productivity. The main issue is the weather which brought diseases as “ojo de gallo” which is hard to kill as the only way is to cut the tree from the base. However, thanks to some training, producers gain some techniques to fight organically other bug like “broca”.  They can prevent this bug by spreading a fungus from one green cherry to another which will kill the insect.  The majority of the farmers harvest their coffee, process with their own wet mill and dry it. They deliver coffee to a truck from the cooperative coming every week in each village and then delivering it to La Paz. It is a really fastidious and long way to get the coffee in the dry mill in el Alto. There, coffee is manually sorted and then transported to Ariche in Chile to be loaded on a vessel.

All these steps make this coffee more expensive than others and also difficult to have access to our consuming countries.

In order to reduce some of the cost and also to get a better control of the quality chain, Proagro built centralised washing stations in 5 out of 10 communities thanks to the Fairtrade premium and other funds. Also, due to strong rains causing delays for drying coffees, they decided to invest in a mechanical dryer to get the coffee ready quicker and get less lost between the parchment and green coffee which is around 20% nowadays.

20% of the producers are women which is less than Cecanor. The Cafe Femenino program works differently compared to Peru, where the plantation belongs to Women only. In Bolivia, after they delivered their coffee, wife and husband split their revenue depending on the Cafe Femenino production. In this culture, it is not possible for the wife to get her own land and work separately from her husband. Men often want to keep control of the family and farms. We visited one Cafe Femenino farmer called Nieves, she was really shy but she accepted to show us around her farm which was beautiful and in good conditions. In Bolivia, Esther is the representative for Cafe Femenino and also the manager of a Tea factory in Caranavi. She is the link between women farmers, proagro and Optco. This year, Cafe Femenino invested in computers for a community to help them be more efficient on the administrative side.

In El Alto, 1h from La Paz, is located the dry mill (GPS S1634778 W06812789) where coffee is sorted manually by women and quality controlled in the lab. They will get better infrastructures in this mill. For instance,  a new coffee belt for women sorting coffee, a new sample roaster to get better consistency in the cupping and a covered dry patio to be able to dry coffee during rainy season. The cooperative wants to give better health care to producers thanks to fair trade premium and also develop credit services to farmers for the light months. All these services and benefits make the farmers remain in the cooperative. They also develop en experimental coffee plantation to train farmers on the different new varietals possible to grow, how to kill disease organically, soil erosion, pruning, cleaning soil etc…

Union Proagro has really interesting coffees with nice flavours and good quality. However, they have some weaknesses which prevent them to grow, like remote areas, transport to the mill and the port. They are getting better infrastructure but it is a long process as much more money is needed.

Travelling to these sources of coffee, meeting producers, understanding their life conditions, measuring issues of coffee production due to low market, weather and diseases make me realise that a lot of work needs to be achieved and to continue our support to these farmers. The strength they have is to stay united and brave, despite their work conditions. Producers are stronger by staying in a cooperative where they get several services and they are also represented. On top of these good structures, Cafe Femenino allows gender equality in the villages where everybody is happy of all benefits brought to their life. All these changes either social or medical projects will not be possible without a good and consistent coffee production that we need in our consuming countries. Let’s just work together on a long term relationship, supporting them to differentiate their coffee and adding values, innovating in projects which could help roasters to be recognised in their market. In the coffee industry, we need to have a “WIN WIN” situation, of course doing business but making sure we are doing it right. It is not about the lowest price but most of all about the highest quality, traceability and stories which differentiate us among the others.

Many of our coffees support Café Femenino

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