Grown by women

The story so far…

A photograph showing a map of the world painted in coffee joining South America to the UK using coffee beans in a dotted line

That coffee in your cup has travelled a long way to get to you. Before it's roasted, ground or brewed, it makes the journey halfway across the globe from the coffee tree on which it grew.

The people who own and tend those trees, who pick the coffee cherries and process them to release the beans inside, rely on them for the livelihoods. However, they have not always received a fair deal.

Coffee companies around the world have worked to change this, with the help of certification organisations like the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade. Coffee drinkers can now easily find brands which invest in their growers' communities and environment, and ensure the producers are paid fairly.

But some issues run deeper. It is the coffee trade's turn to address an inequality which can be seen in agricultural industry across the developing world: the gender gap. Here we look at what this means in numbers - and how some inspirational women are helping to pave the way for a brighter future.

Need for change

Women’s working hours

Half the world's population is female – and in developing countries, women make up a significant part of the agricultural workforce, often playing a crucial role in crop production and processing. But their share of the workload does not necessarily translate to a fair share of income. In fact, there is a serious divide between the roles, responsibilities and earning potential of the sexes.


43% of the developing world’s workforce is female


67% of the world’s working hours are worked by women

Smaller rewards

A big factor in female poverty is land and property. Women tend to control less land than men and it is often of poorer quality.

  • <20%

    <20% of arable land in the developing world is owned by women

  • 1%

    1% of property is owned by women

  • 55%

    55% of the work in coffee production in Peru is carried out by women


Women earn just 10% of the developing world’s agricultural income, despite their sizeable contribution to the industry. Not only that but, on average, 90% of women’s income goes towards meeting household needs compared to just 40% of men’s income.

Income chart

Of the world’s income:

Of the world’s income women earn only Women earn only 10%

Men earn the other 90%


Women do a lot of the labour-intensive work involved in producing coffee.


70% of field work


70% of the harvest


75% of the sorting


Women generally have far less control and ownership of the most valuable elements of the coffee trade.


20% of the land


15% of the coffee harvest


10% of coffee companies

Women’s Coffee Making a Difference

It may take decades to truly tackle the gender gap - but parts of the industry are already challenging the status quo. "Women’s Coffee", piloted in Nicaragua in 2001, separates coffee grown by the female members of a farming co-operative and sells it at a premium to help fund projects which will benefit those growers. The latest example hails from Peru.

Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera (CAC) Pangoa is based in a region known as "the pantry of Peru" - which grows everything from citrus fruits and quinoa to coffee and cocoa. The area is beautifully suited to coffee trees and produces coffee with bright acidity, good sweetness, and hints of fruit and milk chocolate.

The co-op's manager is, unusually, female. Esperanza Dionisio Castillo enrolled in Peru’s national agricultural university the first year female students were accepted and went on to become the co-op's agricultural technician. Since Esperanza became its manager in the late 1990s, CAC Pangoa has gone from strength to strength - doubling production, gaining Fairtrade and Organic certification and exporting to Europe and the USA.


Esperanza, Manager of the Cooperativa Agraria Cafetalera (CAC) Pangoa

Esperanza has helped to build the co-op into a model of progressive, social responsibility. Co-ops are typically designed to provide farmers with a place to process their beans and combine them with their neighbours’ harvest to create larger volumes and access to international buyers. But CAC Pangoa does much more - offering education, technical assistance, credit schemes, business management and helping its members diversify into other crops, like cocoa and honey.

It also has a women’s committee – CODEMU (Committee for Women’s Development). Established in 1999 to offer microfinance schemes and promote female leadership, it has expanded to a support role for farmers and farmers' wives and daughters in areas like nutrition, gender justice, self esteem workshops and healthcare. It now boasts 60 members.

These are the farmers behind the newest Women's Coffee project, a limited edition by Taylors of Harrogate. Named after Esperanza herself, it will raise money for a women's healthcare project in Pangoa - voted for by CODEMU members.

Map of Peru

Closing the gap

Projects like these won't fix the worldwide gender gap on their own, but they are a small part of a global discussion which is steadily gaining in volume. Closing the gap isn't just a moral question - it could have huge economic benefits across the world.

  • Down

    Could reduce number of undernourished people by over 100 million

  • Up

    Increase the quality of coffee

  • Up

    Increase the coffee yield

  • Up

    Could increase developing nations’ income by 2.5% to 4%

Change may not come easily, nor will it be quick. But little by little, project by project, the future of women in coffee is beginning to look stronger.