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The results are in: women run Kanungu's coffee sector but are pushed out of profits

23 November 2020


Video and photography: Farm Africa / Jjumba Martin.

Download Farm Africa's new report: Gender and coffee value chain in Kanungu, Uganda  (4.15mb).

A new study from Farm Africa reveals that women in the Kanungu district of Uganda are the backbone of the area’s coffee industry, which fuels the local economy, yet have little access to the rewards generated by it. A fairer coffee industry would see Kanungu’s female-run coffee sector yield benefits for the whole community.

Both male and female coffee farmers in Kanungu lack the tools, training and bargaining power to grow enough coffee and sell it for a fair price. Yet, women suffer the most. Many do not have access to the land, coffee trees and finance needed to earn a living from coffee farming, and they are under-represented within cooperatives, which sell farmers’ coffee to lucrative markets and provide access to coffee production supplies and services.

The study confirmed that women contribute the bulk of coffee-related labour and generate the majority of coffee’s value. Women provide 58% of labour during the fieldwork and harvest stage, and 72% of labour during the post-harvest handling stage, where the majority of the value and profit is generated.

Patience is taking part in Farm Africa’s coffee project in Kanungu in western Uganda. Photo: Farm Africa / Jjumba Martin.

“The most common challenge facing women is that men don’t contribute to farm work,” said Jennifer Kiconco, a coffee farmer from Kanungu.

Even though women undertake the majority of work involved in growing, harvesting and drying the coffee, men have a near monopoly over the mechanised processing and marketing activities. Men’s dominance over this segment of the value chain puts them in a position where it is they who make the final sale and receive the payment.

When the sale is complete, men exercise control over these funds, often excluding women from participating in financial decisions that affect them and their children. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that farming systems underperform and children’s needs are deprioritised when women are not able to control resources or feed into decisions.

In 2018, with co-funding from the European Union, Farm Africa supported the development of four cooperatives and ten small and medium-sized enterprises within the coffee value chain and worked directly with 4,800 farmers in Kanungu alongside key supporting structures to strengthen the local coffee industry. In 2019, Farm Africa ran the Coffee is Life UK Aid Match appeal. A total of £242,000 in matched funding was unlocked from the UK government, which is directly funding a project in Kanungu that focuses on enhancing the status and role of wfomen in the household, and the wider coffee industry in the district.  

Twenty-three year old Hildah is taking part in the project and is now treasurer of her cooperative. Photo: Farm Africa / Jjumba Martin.

The project launched in September 2019 and looks to close the gender gap in the coffee industry by providing women with access to finance and land, creating inclusive businesses, changing attitudes and unpicking myths surrounding women’s value and contributions to the industry.

In Uganda, decisions on how to use land and finances are largely made by the eldest man in the family. Farm Africa is working with families to put voluntary household land-use agreements in place that give women in the family access to specific areas of the coffee garden or land as well as the opportunity to make decisions about the coffee grown on it, and how the income generated is spent.

“If women were handed as much land as men there’d be more food, production and development,” reports Christine Kyakunda, a coffee farmer based in Kanungu.

The project is also supporting 160 village savings and loan associations, where women unite to save and make funds available to make investments in each other’s businesses.

Coffee producers’ cooperatives provide a route to market, as well as often facilitating access to inputs and extension services, and are typically run by men who make up the majority of their membership. Internal cooperative policies, cultures, structures and procedures make membership inaccessible to many women, and as in the household, the powerful decision-making positions tend to filled by men.  Excluding women from these arena entrenches men’s control over profits. Farm Africa is providing cooperatives with training and support to review their policies and operation procedures and make themselves more accessible to women – both as members and as leaders. To help achieve this, 300 members and staff will have the opportunity to attend training designed to help them build and develop their leadership skills.

Grace has received training from Farm Africa and takes care of half an acre of coffee. Photo: Farm Africa / Jjumba Martin

Across the board, women’s economic contributions are undervalued. This project is running an evidence-based communications campaign, drawing upon the findings of the new report, that highlights the benefits of providing women with greater autonomy at the household, farm and cooperative level.

“When female farmers prosper, the benefits are felt by all: the hardworking women themselves, the children who they invest in and the economies that they drive,” commented Rachel Beckett, Farm Africa’s Country Director in Uganda.

Download Farm Africa's new report: Gender and coffee value chain in Kanungu, Uganda  (4.15mb).

To find out more about the project, register for Farm Africa's Coffee is Life webinar on the 1 December 2020 at 9AM (GMT), and hear from British and Ugandan farmers about the barriers that are holding women back in the coffee sector.   

The report has been funded by the European Union and UK aid from the UK government, however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the organisations’ official policies.