Coffee Supply Chain: Women’s (key) Role

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28 May 2021
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Coffee Supply Chain: Women’s (key) Role

donne nella filiera del caffè

“What would the world be without Nutella” used to say a famous advert.
Although I have a great deal of respect for the famous cocoa and hazelnut cream, I believe that the phrase “what would the world be without coffee” would worry more people around the world.

The Coffee Chain

The secret of coffee’s strong appeal on all of us lies in the supply chain, a chain that starts from the plant and gets to the cup and which, according to estimates, involves about 1 billion people worldwide.

Among these people who work in the coffee chain, one person more than others is not valued, in my opinion, to the right extent, even though he deserves this value by right: women.

There are associations such as Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade that are assiduously committed to protecting the rights of workers in the countries of origin of coffee. It is not difficult to imagine that the daily lives of working women in these countries are not exactly simple.

The Role of Women in the Coffee Industry

Yet the importance of women’s contribution to the coffee chain is, without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely crucial, I would say fundamental.

I have spent practically all my life travelling in the huge and fascinating world of coffee, savouring different experiences at first hand. I have thus had the opportunity to meet and listen to many women involved in the coffee chain:

  • wives who, together with their husbands, manage the farms (farms where the coffee is grown and processed)
  • women who get their hands dirty growing and tending coffee plants, harvesting the drupe with a handkerchief on their head (a familiar image to me, a painting that reminds us of our grandmothers at work in the fields)
  • women sitting in large pavilions working meticulously to remove the spoilt coffee beans among the tons of tiny coffee beans, always with a smile
  • women tasting the best coffees, women who are, of course, often also mothers.

The Salaries of Coffee Women

The salaries of these extraordinary women are on average lower than those of men. They are not even close to the salaries of the so-called industrialised countries. They are often paid less than a hundred dollars a month. Sometimes these women workers are even paid in exchange for goods.
Other times, the salary is paid directly to the head of the family, without ever passing through their hands.

Women coffee brokers

“I come from a family of coffee producers.
We have wonderful coffees but we are forced to go through associations and our wages are no longer sustainable.
In order to survive, I gathered many producers in my area and explained the importance of the project to them.
I came to Europe to sell our green coffee so I could pass on all the proceeds to them. the proceeds to them. Now we can continue our story”.

Who but a woman would have the strength to do this?
Skills, tenacity and determination that I have seen in many women. Yes, there are women coffee brokers and they do it very well.

Women in Coffee Roasting
The supply chain also includes the transition from green coffee to roasting, a job that would seem obvious, according to the common stereotype, to be the exclusive prerogative of a male worker, given the high heat, sweat, and having to move 60kg sacks.

But there are many, many roasters who immerse themselves daily in this world of two colours: the green of the raw coffee bean and the brown of the roasted coffee bean.
A very important daily job made up of roasting curves, professional coffee tasting and choices.
Tasks and choices carried out, more often than you might imagine, by women, some as employees, others as entrepreneurs and company owners.

The second-to-last link in the coffee business chain is the one that includes all those involved in the bagging of the coffee to its arrival at the bar, including those who deal with equipment and additional services.

We can easily see that it is at this point in the chain that most of the billion people working in the chain are employed. We are also talking about a world closer to us, where women are more emancipated, have already won most of their rights and respect, and have widely demonstrated their commercial and entrepreneurial skills.

Women Bartenders and Restaurant Owners

The aspect that fascinates me most about the whole chain is that concerning women bar owners.
I have never seen a bar run by a woman go out of business!

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the idea I've gained over the years is that women demonstrate excellent management and commercial skills, as well as the ability to pay particular attention to detail. Women who run a bar also have the almost innate ability to create the right atmosphere in a bar. Last but not least, they have very good skills in staff selection and management.

Often the bar owner is also the barmaid of the bar.
The bartender, a much sought-after professional figure, but too often misunderstood.

The natural smile, the ability to understand the customer, to interpret their moods, the ready wit or the patience to listen (and the ability to do a thousand things while listening!).

I don’t know exactly what it is, I have yet to understand it, but I am convinced that women bartenders have that “quid”/“something” more than us men, a plus that is often decisive.

To paraphrase Madonna, we could say “women do it better”.
After all, “what would the world (of coffee) be without women”.

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