The company refers to itself as “a pioneer and leader of the fair trade movement, working to build better lives for the poorest and most marginalised in the trading chain." They have enacted this mission for the last 25 years as an importer of agricultural goods—primarily coffee, cacao, and nuts.
Currently, their work involves 18 countries and more than 50 democratic farmer organizations. Twin understands that businesses are uniquely poised to support parts of the supply chain that are vital for their business's success and are often too easily ignored.
Recently, to better support their mission, they turned their focus to issues of gender justice and, specifically, inclusion of women in the agricultural sector. Twin recently printed a report with analysis of data gathered between October 2012 and July 2013. Their team interviewed and conducted field assessments in Peru, Nicaragua, Malawi, Ghana, Uganda, and India, and surveyed 14 producer organizations total. Twin quotes a statistic from a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Global Policy Brief in their gender report: "Globally, women own between 1–50% of agriculture land; on average less than one quarter of arable land is owned by women in developing countries." This statistic denotes a true barrier to women's access, representation, and ability to improve their livelihoods.
The aim of Twin's study was to examine the division of labor at every step of the coffee growing process. For coffee farmers, this meant gaining greater understanding of what women do that is different from or the same as men—from land preparation and maintenance through processing and drying to transporting the prepared good all the way to export and receipt of funds and financing. By understanding where the responsibilities fall, the hope was that they could understand issues of power and empowerment, as well. The report then provides a list of suggested best practices for more full inclusion of women as key players in the agricultural sector.
To better understand the depth and importance of Twin’s work, Kat Nolte, Coffee Marketer & Marketing Advisor at Twin, was kind enough to provide a Q&A session.
Hannah: Why does Twin think it is important to specifically focus on women for their projects of late?
Kat: Twin isn't just focusing projects on gender justice, we've built it into the six pillars of our approach to sustainable development. Empowering smallholder farmers is at the heart of Twin's mission. Eighty percent of the world's coffee is produced by smallholders, and it is estimated that women perform 70% of that work. Without a gender-balanced approach, our work in coffee quality, good governance, and sustainable agriculture would be very limited in scope.
When we embed a gender component into our projects, we ensure that all of the people performing the work in coffee production receive crucial technical information. Women's empowerment isn't about the promotion of one sex over the other, it's about balance, equality, and the engagement of all the relevant players in a supply chain.
H: Why is it important for an importer to be involved in community development efforts in coffee growing countries?
K: The SCAA tells us that "great coffee doesn't just happen." And it is so true. Specialty coffee requires people who are passionate about their craft—from farmer to barista. And passion for coffee comes after you and your family are fed, clothed, and healthy. Passion comes after you have access to clean water. Passion comes after you have an education. Passion comes after you have a good place to sleep at night. For an industry that requires so much passion, it is not only important, it is essential to see to it that your coffee is coming from thriving communities.
H: What is Twin most proud of in its approach to or results from the "empowering women farmers in agricultural value chains" initiative?
K: As far as results on the ground, there are so many anecdotal and qualitative responses that my colleagues and I could give to this question, which is proof that working in gender justice produces fantastic results.
Bukonzo Joint in Western Uganda—who is also a Direct Trade partner with Counter Culture—is certainly at the top of my list. This group went from producing coffee scoring a 79 to producing specialty lots that have scored 87+ in just two short years. And they are continuing to invest in quality, gender, and their environment in order to keep improving.
When asked how they achieved this, the group starts by talking about their work in "gender balance." They finish with technical information on farm rehabilitation, cherry harvesting, and improved processing—and the technical know-how is usually explained by women from the group. They know that farming households sharing a joint vision between men and women to produce specialty coffee are successful. They also know that households struggling to communicate about how and when to harvest and where to sell their coffee also struggle to produce the quality necessary to reach specialty markets. They have built their business on the philosophy that men and women should be equal participants in decision making and equal participants in workload.
H: What makes this type of work possible? Who are key stakeholders or partners that you recommend for optimal success?
K: Meaningful work in gender justice is possible when you have buy-in from the whole supply chain. For example, if an organization is committed to producing "women's coffee" as a way to promote economic opportunity for widows who lost their husbands in armed conflict, the market needs to also support the program with purchases or investment. Likewise, if you have men and women who are working together to produce a higher quality coffee with a gender balanced approach, the market should also recognize the investment in gender justice that went into the production, or the organization could lose traction in the push toward quality.
Over the years, Twin has come to realize that project success is at its peak when a holistic approach is taken. Approaches to development through trade which interrelate multiple areas of need simultaneously reach communities deeply and over the long-term. In addition to engaging the whole supply chain and taking a holistic approach, patience and long-term commitment is required in this kind of work. One of our biggest challenges is reconciling long-term development approaches to a dynamic, ever-changing global coffee market across diverse cultures with diverse perspectives, values, and needs.
H: What does the future hold? What are some key hopes or expectations you have as these projects and the research continue to develop?
K: We are launching a very exciting five-year project in East Africa that incorporates work in gender justice, climate change adaptation, and technical assistance in coffee production with seven producers who will prioritize needs and invest in their organizations. This project is expected to continue to demonstrate that work in gender is positively correlated to improvements in coffee quality.
My hope is that the specialty industry continues to embrace initiatives that economically empower women. We work with a group in Rwanda who have a women's coffee field named Ejo Heza, which translates to "a beautiful tomorrow." My hope is that women in coffee find this "beautiful tomorrow" as these projects continue to promote and provide equality in economic opportunity, land ownership rights, and decision-making power.