Taking Organic, Fair Trade A Step Further

Soon we saw that money going to women brought much more benefit to the family than money going to the men. So we changed our policy and gave a high priority to women.

– Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank and the man who made micro-lending a worldwide phenomenon to combat global poverty

Last night’s Cafe Feminino Coffee Festival at the Bagdad Theater was an eye-opening event even for this fair-trader.  The debut of the documentary Strong Coffee: The Story of Cafe Feminino was the centerpiece of the evening and a powerful vehicle to tell the story of this effective organization.

The power of fair trade is becoming more broadly understood. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, second only to oil. It’s a $5 billion a year industry but less than 10% of that stays in the communities that actually grow the beans, the most labor-intensive part of your cup of joe.  Most coffee farmers live on $2/ day or less. Raising coffee is back-breaking work, with little or no mechanization and all the work done by hand. Ever picked blueberries? It’s fun…for about 20 minutes. Then you start to realize how slowly your big bucket is filling with those little berries, your back starts to ache and that’s enough for today thank you very much. Picking coffee is like picking blueberries except the plants grow much taller (think small people stretching very high) and many coffee growers walk several miles to their farms each day. Exhausting!

Until fair trade and organic coffee premiums became a possibility for high-quality coffee growers, they sold their beans to coyotes, middle men who paid low, often unlivable prices per pound. Fair trade and organic premiums have given farmers worldwide a chance to break free from coyotes and moneylenders and get a fair price.

The founders of Cafe Feminino, coffee importers from Vancouver, Washington, discovered that those premiums didn’t necessarily trickle down to the women and children in the families. Abuse rates remained as high in 70% in some communities they bought coffee from in Peru. So in partnership with women coffee farmers in their communities, Cafe Feminino was born with the core value of buying fair trade, organic coffee only from women coffee growers. The land has to be deeded in the woman’s name, she has to do the work on her farm and the payment for the coffee goes into her pocket.

The co-op in Peru started with 464 women the first year and now has grown to over 1000 members 5 years later. The model has expanded to other countries including Mexico, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Ethiopia. A portion of the premium paid is reinvested in community projects like books for children and health projects.  Abuse rates have plummeted as the women have gained self-respect as well as value in their husbands’ eyes. Some of the women farmers are single moms, who now are able to use their incomes to send their children to school. The transformation has been quick and deep.

Cafe Feminino recognizes that the women they buy from want the same thing: respect and to have their contributions to their families and communities valued.  That’s what women everywhere want. That’s what I want. That’s what the artisans I buy fair trade handicrafts from want. Now that we have certification for fair trade and organic, I’m thinking the next movement should be “certified woman-made!” That way we’d know every coffee dollar we spend is not just good to the planet and bought at a fair price but goes straight into the hands of mothers.

Cafe Feminino sells their green coffee beans to roasters all over the world but especially in the Pacific Northwest. You can find their roasted beans in Portland at coffee shops like K&F and Kobos, as well as at Trader Joe’s. I enjoyed a cup this morning and it was fabulous!

Everyday Just Living Home



  1. KarenP said,

    October 17, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks, Beth. Great summary. It was an inspiring film and a great experience. Thanks for recruiting me to come with you!

  2. Debbie said,

    October 17, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Can’t say I’d be in favor of the “woman-made” label, but organic and fair trade are both win-win situations. Thanks for the work and the commentary.


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