Precious coffee beans hand-picked by women

26 Aug

Malak ShaherPublished:26-08-2010


When she left her village for the first time in her life to visit Europe, she had no idea that she might have something so valuable in her poor village for the people of the world. 

Fatima Abdulkabir, 30, is the manager of Talooq, a women’s association named after the village where it was started in the governorate of Taiz. Eighty percent of the women in the association are coffee growers.

Last February 2009, she traveled from Al-Misrakh, Taiz to Germany for a trade fair that she hopes to take part in next year. She discovered that, with its lingering chocolaty aftertaste, the coffee that the women in her association grow is in high demand on a continent where people drink up to three cups a day.

“I was surprised that they valued our coffee,” said Fatima. “When I came back to Yemen, I reflected on how much they value Yemeni coffee and we pay almost no heed to it. Actually, I realized we have an invaluable mine of coffee. When I went back to my village, I told the women that each has a hidden treasure.”

Men in Fatima’s village have in general left their families to look for a job and neglected their coffee trees. Now 95 percent of the women in the area take care of the coffee trees, said Afrah Al-Mahfadi, the head of the Rural Women Department at the Ministry of Agriculture.

Eighty percent of the members of Talooq, the association that Fatima heads, are either women with their own coffee farms or young women who work in their families’ coffee farms after their male relatives emigrated, abandoning the coffee trees to women.

“Unlike men who usually do not wait and pick up the red with the green coffee cherries, women have patience,” Al-Mahfadi added. “They pick up the very ripe red cherries and wait for the green ones to be ripe.”

Women spend from 70 to 80 percent of the coffee revenues on their families, on things such as education and food. They save the rest. However, men who plant coffee and chew qat spend about 50 percent of their earning on chewing qat and only the rest for their families, Al-Mahfadi said.

Women not only spend coffee revenues more wisely than men, but they are also more patient workers, according to Al-Mahfadi.

In order to get an original coffee flavor and taste, only the red cherries must be picked at the time of harvesting coffee cherries. If the farmer is not patient enough and mingles the red cherries with the green ones, the result will not be the original coffee flavor Yemen has always been famous for.

Women collect the red cherries in a bamboo tree basket, then spread them out on the roof top of their house to allow them to drink the golden rays of the warm morning sun. 

Fatima’s associations are supported by the Small & Micro Enterprises Promotion Agency (SMEPS). An agency that empowers coffee farmers and traders in Yemen, SMEPS sponsored her and another woman from the association to show their coffee at the Biofach Organic Trade Fair in Germany last year.

“The women are the main laborers working in the coffee farms as most of the men have migrated to urban areas leaving the farms to the women,” said Mirvat Haidar, Senior Officer at (SMEPS).

In order to tell the world about Yemeni coffee and to provide local Yemeni farmers such as Talook the chance to network with international coffee companies, SMEPS will be holding the second international conference on Arabica Naturals in December this year in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

At the moment, with equipment provided by the French Embassy, Talooq is working on roasting and peeling the coffee cherries after they are exposed to the sun for three weeks.

SMEPS has also created networking channels for this women’s organization to reach local coffee traders and market their products. It has provided individual female coffee producers with small loans to boost their business.

The Talooq association sold about 1,300 kilos of dried coffee to a Yemeni company in only two weeks last January, according to Ahmad Hajjam from SMEPS. The coffee was sold for 1,200 a kilo with a 30 percent profit. He said that GEPA, a German fair trade company, had also shown interest in buying the coffee from Talook at a good price, including a premium.

“Women are active in terms of planting coffee. In some areas of the district, they convince their husbands to remove the qat tree and plant the coffee tree instead,” said Wesam Qaed, director of SMEPS.

“Unfortunately most of the women working in the farms are not educated,” he continued. “If they were educated, they would be able to learn the best techniques to take care of the coffee tree and even would be strong at negotiating as they would realize the real value of the coffee that the whole world is looking for.”

According to a 2005 feasibility study on coffee farms in Talooq, a kilogram of coffee was then sold for YR 500. Its real cost in the local market was however YR 1,400 in 2009, according to an article from Al-Jumhuriyya, a Yemeni news website.

The 32,265 coffee trees in Talooq, Misrakh district in Taiz governorate cover the majority of the agricultural land. They make up over 19 percent of all coffee trees in Yemen


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