Producers Direct interview

Our new range highlights the direct impact it has on gender-equality, climate action and youth opportunities in the coffee growing world. We do this through our NGO partner, Producers Direct. We interview their CEO Claire Rhodes about the impact if these programmes on the ground.

By Lauren Morris, Cafédirect

Lauren: Our Empower roasted coffee raises awareness of the women empowerment projects we directly support through Producers Direct.  Can you tell us why gender inequality is a focus in coffee farming?

Claire: Overall smallholder farmers are still incredibly marginalised. A lot of female farmers are still struggling, working on very unstructured food value chains, for example, crops to feed their family. They often have very little opportunity to earn income from those crops, because they’re either being used just for household consumption, or if they are sold, they’re sold in very low volumes. And they find they don’t have much power when they’re negotiating with middlemen at the market when they do sell their crops.

For women smallholders, it’s still incredibly difficult to even get recognition for their role within agriculture, let alone earn a decent living from it.  

Within coffee communities, the men tend to be the ones responsible for the coffee crops, members of the cooperative, and the ones who receive the money for their coffee. And so, there’s still a massive imbalance there. That’s why the focus on empowering women is super important.

Lauren: Can you tell about some of the women empowerment programmes that Producers Direct runs?

Rosario Salas, Huadquiña, trained to be a Q grader

Claire: We’re working with groups of women in all of the 10 producer organisations we’re involved with in Peru. We look at how they can improve the incomes that they’re earning from the feed crops that they’re growing.  A resilient coffee farm grows a variety of crops – it’s good for the health of the land but also means you don’t have dependency on one crop.

Olestina is a good example. She’s based in Pangoa (Peru), and was managing a really diverse farm with lots of fruits and vegetables, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, everything that the family needed. She found that she had quite a lot of surplus which she wasn’t able to get to the market in time before it rotted, and so the food went to waste.

In response, we’ve created digital cooperatives, which aggregates small volumes of crops from lots of different women onto a digital platform. 

Essentially it means Olestina can use a  smartphone or even a basic mobile to send a message to the system when she has surplus food crops to sell.

The other side of the system is working with youth within the community to go out and identify local buyers who could buy these products from the women.  And essentially, the result of that is that you’ve gone from a situation where the female farmers are hardly earning any money for the surplus crops that they’re growing to having up to an $50 a month, which they can then invest in their family and their kids’ education.

Lauren: Our Thrive roasted coffee represents the youth work in coffee communities.   Why is this a particularly important to focus on?

Claire: All over the world, young people are leaving rural communities.  It all stems down to the fact that agriculture isn’t seen as an aspirational profession for young people, especially when they see their parents struggling to make enough money to meet the costs of running their farm.

There’s huge levels of migration of young people from rural areas to cities.

The parents are often also trying to encourage them to leave the farm, to be able to get a higher level of education, and the question is whether they return to the farm. It’s a massive problem everywhere, and it’s not going to be solved unless we make agriculture more aspirational and more profitable. Because why would you do it? Farmers capture a very small percentage of the total value chain for these products. And unless that changes, there’s no way that younger generations are going to want to get into agriculture at all.

Lauren: What is Producers Direct doing to create opportunities and experiences for young people?

Natalay Nicole, Producers Direct youth agent, Peru

Claire: There are three big areas.   One is around facilitating youth within agricultural communities to use technology and data  to support farming. We find that young people in these communities are interested in working with smartphones and technology.  Data insights can really support farms as it gives information on how a farm’s performing and data analysis is valuable information on climate change trends.  World over, agriculture is becoming more precise because of the way data is being used, but smallholder communities miss out on this.  

The second area is about investing in building leadership skills.  We find youth within the community that are motivated to stay in farming and support them with training on what it means to be a leader in a cooperative. 

The third area is supporting youth to set up agri-enterprises.  We find that young people are very excited about opportunities to brand products, which take raw materials and to turn them into different products.

For example, there’s youth groups that are selling branded coffee and branded fruits and vegetables locally.

It’s trying to find what those young people are excited about and build from that.

Lauren: Our Restore roasted coffee highlights the climate action work that the farmers we work with are implementing.  Can you tell us about that?

Claire: Coffee farmers in particular are seeing the impacts of climate change. And that manifests in lots of different ways. The Brazil frost last year (2022) was a example of that.   Overnight farmers lost their whole crop as a result of an extreme weather event.   It doesn’t have to be frost, it might be really heavy rainfall or floods or drought. And so, overnight, you can go from a situation where you have your income and your plan lined up from the year to everything being wiped out. And most smallholder families won’t have insurance, and so unless they have other forms of income to supplement their household, then a dependency on coffee is extremely risky and puts them in a very vulnerable position.

On top of that, there’s very little information that gets to coffee farmers on what to do in order to respond to climate change.   Whether that’s supporting them to anticipate and plan for more extreme weather events during a season, or having early warning systems. So, for example, if a frost was expected, they could prepare and protect the coffee bushes.

It’s very significant, because some of the climate scenarios predict that in 30 years there are places that coffee won’t be able to grow anymore.   

Lauren: What practices are farmer’s implementing to help restore and protect their environment?

Reforestation project in Sierra Piura, Peru

Claire: Farmers are thinking about the range of crops, water, soil and trees to restore their environment.  So, for example, under some climate scenarios (predictions), there’s going to be increased frequency of drought. So we’re supporting farmers with planning for that. There’s a lot of techniques around harvesting rainwater, so that when there is inadequate rainfall, you already have a supply of water that you can use to irrigate your farm.  Organic composts enhance the moisture in the soil, so that the farm is less likely to dry out if there’s extremely high temperatures.

When growing coffee it’s important to integrate with other crops.

Trees can often form a protective layer so that the coffee is less exposed to things like frost. 

Trees also provide valuable organic matters, which helps the soil quality and retaining moisture. 

It’s about helping farmers to be aware of the range of options available to them, what they could do with the resources that they have, and what they might need to access.  We support farmers with loans and finance for them to make bigger investments, such as water collection barrels. With support like this and by leveraging the farmers’ knowledge and skills, together we can restore their environment.

Claire Rhodes, CEO Producers Direct

Find out more about the programmes and the coffee range

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