Brewing Up a Breakthrough

Brewing Up a Breakthrough

How Ecom's specialized farmer training for women is a game-changer in coffee production in East Asia

Manager, Advisory Services,
East Asia and the Pacific, IFC

Principal Investment Officer,
Agribusiness & Forestry, Investment Services, IFC

It is a precious commodity that kick-starts the day for billions of people across the planet. Coffee: the ubiquitous urban nectar that is consumed 12,000 times every second around the globe.

For many readers of this magazine, your morning cup of coffee is likely to come from Indonesia or Vietnam, two of the world’s largest coffee producers. These tropical havens house tens of thousands of coffee bean farms that employ over two and a half million people, small holder farmers who rely on coffee as their main source of income.

Farmer in Sumatra

Credit: Ecom

For Ecom Agroindustrial Corp Ltd, a global commodity trading company with a specialty in coffee and cocoa, meeting consumer demand for sustainably grown coffee has become a constant challenge.

In 2011, Ecom in conjunction with IFC, scaled up its farmer training programs in both Indonesia and Vietnam to increase productivity, sustainability, and to improve the quality of their coffee beans.

The plan was simple: IFC would help Ecom train their field staff to get closer to their small farmer suppliers by imparting valuable knowledge on how to grow better and more sustainable coffee plants in farmer training centers across Indonesia and Vietnam.

“Our focus was to train our field staff and their managers to work directly with farmers and to help train them with good agricultural and sustainability practices,” said Serge Mantienne, sustainability manager for Ecom in Vietnam.

When the training centers opened for business, classrooms were full of eager participants but with one major exception – there were hardly any female coffee farmers in attendance, all the more puzzling given that in north Sumatra, Indonesia, for example, 70% to 80 % of the coffee farming activities are handled by women.

On investigation, the project team found that women often assumed the training was for men and many also felt culturally uncomfortable in a mixed room with a male trainer.

When Ecom realized that a large share of their training budget was essentially being wasted, they immediately took action and went back to the drawing board with IFC to drastically rethink their training protocols.

Male trainers were replaced with female trainers and consultants specializing in gender awareness were brought on board to assist in revised Training of Trainers. With special sensitivities to the cultural traditions, training materials were rewritten to appeal to a female audience. For those women with low literacy rates, specialized training materials were devised.

North Sumatra


of coffee farming activities are handled by women in North Sumatra, Indonesia

In addition, the timing of the training sessions was realigned to suit the rhythms of family farm life and for women in more remote areas, sessions were moved to locations nearer to their homes. Female farmers with leadership skills were assigned to organize farmer meetings.

As a result, in Indonesia, female participation in the training increased from 16% to 27% and more than doubled from 12% to 25% in Vietnam. In north Sumatra, coffee farmers who had participated in joint male/female training reported a 92% increase in their productivity levels while those who did not receive training reported only a 37% productivity increase.

Realizing that the experience could resonate with other commodities such as cocoa, Ecom has embraced the application of an ‘on the farm’ gender mapping tool to future projects, paving the way for significant cost savings.

“Our business is coffee and we want the production to keep going,” said Laurent Bossolasco, sustainability manager for Ecom in Indonesia. “If we are delivering the wrong training package, then, from a business point of view, we need to fix that and involve the correct stakeholder.”

Ecom has been an IFC investment and advisory client since 2006. IFC has provided the company with $154 million in financing as well as with advisory services on how to strengthen the ability of its coffee suppliers to a) meet international standards for quality and (b) adopt sustainable practices.

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