For most, a person’s morning coffee is just a beverage that they consume. Maybe it’s a ritual, maybe it’s cultural, likely it’s for stimulation, but to me it’s a powerful story of the world’s most valuable renewable resource. It’s the reason why I am a coffee roaster, because I believe in coffee. Returning from Nicaragua I am reminded of how amazing the work that we do is, how much it changes the lives of those that we support and how coffee is not just a beverage.
Down in Estelí, Nicaragua, deep in the mountains two hours outside of town, in the community of El Colorado, is an amazing women’s cooperative called La FEM (Foundation between Women). The long, bumpy, dirt road to the community wasn’t short of breathtaking views or anticipation to meet the women who grow our coffee. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed into a large empty room with chairs all along the walls and asked to take a seat. After the room filled with women, and a round of introductions, they shared their story with us.
In response to changing roles of women in the country side, La FEM began to organize women from rural communities in the North of Nicaragua. The initial focus of the organization was to create an autonomous space for rural women that would challenge the traditional, male-dominated model of rural development and to promote women’s rights. La FEM later established the coffee cooperative Las Diosas (The Goddesses), an all-female coffee cooperative in the community of El Colorado, from where our coffee comes.
La FEM identified a few main ways to support women in rural communities starting with education and access to land. They formed an adult education program that has helped over 2,000 women become literate, and many graduate from primary and secondary school. With help from La FEM, women gained access to land and began to grow coffee, along with other crops, for economic empowerment and food sovereignty. Helping women buy their own land creates autonomy and gives them the control to work the land as they see fit; for many this means growing organically. For most women, it was the first time they had their own money and could decide how to spend it. One woman stood up during our meeting and with a smile on her face filled with pride, she stated, “I went and bought myself clothes and didn’t have to ask for money or permission.”
As in many patriarchal societies, the husband controlled all aspects of decision-making and at first women had a very difficult time participating. Their husbands were threatened by their participation in a feminist organization. Resistance came from the men who were not used to seeing the women manage the land and expected them to play a more common role of working in the kitchen and with the kids. But over time it has been a learning process for the men who now think it’s not an issue and understand it’s about women’s empowerment and find that their wives’ are creating more income for the household.
We wrapped up the emotional meeting talking about what the women like most about La FEM. Just the question alone solicited many smiles and feelings of pride. In no particular order women shouted out praise for helping them feel empowered, teaching them their rights, helping them own land and homes, living a life without violence, getting educated, and learning the value of being a woman.
Desert Sun is proud to support this community in Nicaragua. All products are marketed under the label “Las Diosas” (The Goddesses), with a symbol that represents the moon and the rain together with the women’s symbol. By having access to their own parcels of land while also participating in the fair trade market, women organized under La FEM have seen dramatic changes in their lives. While the story of La FEM and Las Diosas is inspiring they also have their challenges. In part 2 I will discuss the epidemic of La Roya, or coffee rust, that is sweeping across Central America. For more information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org