2011 was a breakthrough year for coffee and for women. What started as a trip to China to explore the exportation of coffee and textiles now becomes an advocacy to cultivate the uniqueness of women and coffee.
The kismet meeting of Pacita Juan, President of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) in the Philippines, with then IWCA President Phyllis Johnson started the cause of IWCA Philippines “to get more women to access markets and to let women get the full value of their work in coffee.” Juan said, “It has been a good seven years.”
Another fateful meeting right after was with Princess Kumala Sug-Elardo, the chair of a women-led multipurpose cooperative in Panamao, Sulu. Then there was a gathering of several women leaders passionate about coffee—including café owners Lot Manalo-Tan and Reena Francisco, research professional Josephine Ramos, and coffee processor Christine Abellon—that united and formed the IWCA Philippines chapter.
As beautiful as the coffee process is—from sourcing beans to planting to harvesting to roasting—the IWCA story unfolded beautifully to reveal how a single coffee bean can bring women to work together towards one purpose. Women are at their best when they come together. As a team, like clockwork, exhibited their coffee expertise, the “Women in Coffee” (WIC) brand came into fruition. Imagine each woman as a color in an exquisite tapestry, weaving across one another, either supporting or taking the lead. What a vivid and creative picture it brings!
Juan recalled how each one beautifully wove in together: “We met Ross Alonso, a Robusta farmer from Batangas; Noemi Dado and her daughter Marielle, who wanted to plant coffee in Benguet; Imelda Ahalul-Dagus, who started Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga; Gold Quetulio, who would take care of our membership campaign; and many others who signed up because they believed in our advocacy.”
Every year since 2012, Sug-Elardo has promoted during the harvest season the “Pick Red” campaign in Sulu as Juan and Nicky Matti would do the same in Benguet. The years 2014 to 2016 saw the purchase and transport of jute sacks to the Cordilleras. The coffee beans, in all forms such as parchment, green or roasted, were also purchased for the WIC brand. The brands Sulu Royal Coffee of Sug-Elardo and the Commune of Ros Juan were also launched.
The best part was providing jobs for women and encouraging them to participate in the advocacy with their coffee skills and talents. To continue building the women and the coffee culture, IWCA partnered with other agencies and NGOs; ACDI/VOCA, ECHOsi Foundation, and the DA’s Gender and Development (GAD) Office. Together, IWCA and its partners developed trainings under the “Women in Coffee” banner.
IWCA traveled to Davao, Butuan City, Sagada, Sultan Kudarat, Ilocos Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, Cavite, Ifugao, and Kalinga to communicate coffee about, with and through women. There were quality coffee talks from all sectors, from women farmer groups to women cuppers to women tasters.
With the involvement of USAID’s Green Invest in 2018, IWCA has now gained momentum after a decade’s work. IWCA conducted studies for women in the coffee sector in the country and internationally through the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED) commissioning to research and write case studies for journals. IWCA Philippines has grown and extended its reach with esteemed international partners such as the ASEAN Coffee Federation, who opened its conference and exhibition doors for IWCA in Cafe Asia in Singapore (March) and in the THAIFEX in Bankok (May).
Truly, the role that women and coffee continue to play together is this: “The mission is not just to upgrade the quality of coffee, but to use it to uplift the lives of the people in the community.”
written by Ann Kuy