Women and Coffee

The following story was witnessed by Mike Pole:

We had been asked to attend a meeting in the heartland of Tanna Island. An area known as LPG.

This was to actively discuss addressing the problems of financial viability of the new and existing coffee industry in this area which was struggling to benefit the local community with financial returns due to physical remoteness and associated costs.

Napuat Mawe TCP’s representative and Chief Technical advisor was chairing the meeting.

We had almost concluded our discussions with the male dominant forum of LPG area leaders on substantial assistance for coffee development in this localised area.

Napuat asked Monique his wife  to speak, so she quietly rose and spoke. I could not understand her because she chooses to speak in Kustom Language. She started quietly and steady addressing directly the other women she had been sitting with.The men had started to talk between themselves as you would expect, but shortly after Monique began to speak  the mood of the meeting changed. The Men stopped their talk and their heads turned to this small but powerful presence of a women.

Short and lean from years of 16 hour days and turning herself into the largest coffee grower in Vanuatu, as well as the biggest Coffee buyer and producer of high quality coffee on Tanna, she spoke with authority from her self- belief and her husband’s pride of what she had achieved within a hugely male dominated society. Even to think 12 months ago when she was worried about how she [they could afford to pay for their 5 children’s school and extended education and their meager living expenses] there was this women fully in control of the powerful elements around her dominated by men.

“Coffee is a gift to women” she spoke. “It is something that we can do and earn money from our work and when we can keep this money to help us pay for things we need in our lives.

We cannot trust our men to be honest with us about when we send them off to the market to sell kava or a bullock for money we so desperately need for school fees, salt and things we  need. They lie to us about how much they have been paid for the kava and we never see the money or if we do it is never the right amount! Coffee gives us pride in our work and what we as women can earn for our children and keep for us”

By now there was a silent hush which was eerie to say the least. 70 people in attendance and every person attending was focused on Monique. No one was moving. No children were restless and I could tell Monique was at that point where in the eyes of every person at that meeting, she was taking a giant step forward for the voice of women on Tanna. I glanced over to Napuat and he was beaming, so proud of this wife and his partner in leading the coffee industry on Tanna Island.

She finished by expressing how good coffee had been for her. How she had worked hard but now the hard work was paying her well and she had now a future she could control and plan financially. As she began to motion to sit down the meeting erupted into applause from everyone there. This women had made her mark. I had just witnessed something very special.

Men stated coming towards her and shook hands and spoke words to her of which I was unable to understand , she bowed her head as Lady Tanna does but I could see there was respect in each of those men

After when we were accepting local food[Kai kai] I quietly asked Monique exactly what she had said .She told me how the men had come to her and shook her hand and said” Yes Monique you are right”
“We do do as you say and lie and not bring back the money and we are ashamed listening to you today at what we do”
“And you are right coffee is good for our families”

I said that I knew it was a powerful moment in her life and I was proud to be there to witness it “Feels good eh?”I said she just bowed her head and chuckled and ate her rice and pig

Women’s role as coffee buying / processing Agents

TCP and INIK Co-op are  very proud of the equal role it has placed within the coffee industry of both Women and Men.

The two largest buying/processing stations (Area LAO/ LPK) are totally run and controlled by women. These two stations will handle over 30 tonnes of parchment coffee this season (2010), following a successful first year trial in 2009 of 16 tonnes. This sits along side another 13 tonnes controlled by men in other TCP /INIK Co-operative supported stations.

These stations deliver huge cost effectiveness to the farmers (Fairtrade principles), and ensure 100% of the money earnt is kept in the localized areas. The Men and Women who have the important role of managing these stations work very hard. They display an honest and transparent role of trustworthy business models, of which others around them now accept as the norm. After previous years of less than beneficial practises delivering little benefit to the farmer, this business model has been warmly welcomed by the local people.

These particular women are seen by other women as new role models. Their hard working ethics inspire others to embrace the coffee industry, promoting the fact that this is something women can succeed in, developing a sense of business, pride and togetherness. The financial independence these women gain by working in the industry is happily shared by the extended family.