Southeast Asia’s businesswomen ride coffee’s third wave: study in four emerging economies

BANGKOK, May 29, 2019— Dozens of women-led and owned coffee businesses in Southeast Asia are featured in a new study conducted by USAID Green Invest Asia, in collaboration with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), that shows how female entrepreneurs are advancing a marketplace struggling to keep up with growing demand for specialty coffee.

Supply of premium varieties has shrunk, worsened by increased climate pressure in some of Asia’s coffee-cultivating areas. Against this backdrop, businesswomen in four Southeast Asian emerging economies are recognised for their acumen, technical skills and potential to re-invigorate the sector.

“Women are more meticulous in picking and sorting, tasks that are key determinants of quality,” said Robert Francisco, consultant to the Philippine Coffee Board. In Vietnam, women’s roles are often masked, said the sourcing manager for Volcafe Vietnam, Do Thi Quynh. “While in many cases businesses are owned by men, women are the point of contact to negotiate with farmers and buyers. They are believed to be better negotiators.”

Contrary to a leading belief that women working in the coffee sector are mostly growers, the study found that in Indonesia, the world’s fourth-largest coffee producer, women lead an estimated 22 per cent of Indonesia’s cooperatives and own or lead 25 per cent of specialty roasters. In 2017, Indonesia exported $1.7 billion in coffee. Women-led businesses account for four per cent of Indonesia’s coffee exporters.

In Vietnam, the world’s largest producer of Robusta coffee, women lead at least half of all domestic trading companies.

Women’s business potential in the coffee value chain is often overlooked, noted IWCA. “The historical lack of visibility of women in coffee might lead one to significantly underestimate their role across the industry,” said Kellem Emanuele, IWCA’s president. “But women are there, leading from farm to table to podium. And the more rapidly we increase their recognition and engagement as critical solution partners to any of the challenges facing the industry–the sooner we will experience meaningful, positive impact across coffee communities.”

Almost all Indonesian female-led businesses interviewed reported revenue growth, with one-third reporting growth of at least 20 per cent. In 2017, Indonesia and Vietnam were among the world’s top coffee producers, contributing 18 per cent and six per cent, respectively, to global output. Southeast Asia grows roughly one-quarter of the world’s coffee beans.

IWCA has, since 2003, promoted women’s environmental, social, and economic impact in the coffee sector, while <a USAID Green Invest Asia is a platform with a gender-lens focus in Southeast Asia linking investors with sustainable agriculture and forestry businesses.

“Coffee is still widely seen as a ‘men’s crop’,” said study author, Caterina Meloni, USAID Green Invest Asia’s gender and social inclusion advisor. “Female farmers are referred to as ‘the farmer’s wife’. This study shows another side to the industry, one where men are the ‘coffee trader’s husband’ and the ‘partner of the third-wave café owner’. Increasing women’s participation along all parts of the supply chain can only invigorate and advance the coffee sector.”

The study can be downloaded at https://greeninvestasia.com/research/. For more information, contact info@greeninvestasia.com.

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