Deeply ingrained cultural traditions meant women coffee farmers in rural Aceh, Indonesia, would sit quietly in meetings, keeping their opinions to themselves. Now, having formed their own Fairtrade cooperative, they have given themselves a voice.
The women say that being part of the 470-strong Koperasi Kopi Wanita Gayo (KKWG) coffee farming organization, the first all-women coffee cooperative in South East Asia, has changed their lives.
Some were previously members of other cooperatives, dominated by a male membership. Most were not members, though their husbands were. The cultural context of their Islamic community meant that the women rarely voiced what they thought at work. They felt reluctant to contradict their husbands and other men in their households who were also present at meetings.
KKWG was established in 2014 and achieved Fairtrade certification a year later. Its chair, Rizkani Ahmad, had felt a need to organize the women so that their voices would be heard and their concerns freely expressed.
New skills and knowledge bear fruit
Previously, the women knew neither about coffee roasting nor how to improve cultivation. Only their husbands had received this training even though the women worked alongside them in the coffee gardens.
Now the women are developing new skills. In fact, they decided to spend their first Fairtrade Premium on cupping training as well as learning how to increase soil fertility.
In 2015 the cooperative sold more than 13 MT of coffee on the Fairtrade market, enabling the women to make their own financial and business decisions.The field staff say they are pleased with these figures, believing they compare well with other new cooperatives of a similar size. Members say it is thanks to Fairtrade certification that sales are rising and, with strong branding as a women’s cooperative and good connections in the industry, this trend will continue.
Building confidence to build business
The women have a tremendous enthusiasm and a confidence in what they are doing. “I want to prove that we can achieve business success with our will and determination,” says cooperative member, Yuyun Sri Wahyuni. “I want our cooperative to become internationally recognized and perform even better than our husbands’ cooperatives.”
They are already planning on what their future Premium income can do for their local community. They want to create a health centre catering for women’s and reproductive health, and also focusing on Ear Nose and Throat and abdominal problems.
One turning point for the women came when Ahmad attended a recent Speciality Coffee Association of America trade fair in the USA with the support of Fairtrade’s Network of Asia and Pacific Producers. Witnessing a female representative speaking eloquently and confidently at the fair had a big impact on her. She now aspires to bring the concerns of KKWG to an international platform. In fact, the biggest change she feels in herself is her level of confidence and a sense of ‘can do’.
Overcoming the challenge of land ownership
In establishing the association, the biggest challenge for the women was land ownership. Only landowners are allowed to be members of a cooperative. The women had the huge task of persuading their husbands to transfer land management rights to them, allowing them to till a part of the land and earn a separate income. Around 30 percent of the women had inherited land from their parents and did not face this issue but, for the others, it was pure willpower coupled with support from their husbands that allowed the cooperative to come to life.
Ahmad is only positive about all that the women have achieved. “The women in our community feel closer and we now have a channel to express our interests, experiences and plans,” she says. “The women say to me, ‘We may not have much education but we have big dreams’.”
Contributed by Harveen Kour