Episode 21: Transcript 

Juliette Roy: Women make up around 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. They are especially disadvantaged and usually have more limited access to both information and services. Women hold more responsibilities around the house and are now taking over more and more that agricultural workload as men migrates out of town to find work.

My guest today on  Be Your Change is Vava Angwenyi.

Vava: Well I’m representing Vava coffee and coffee is based in Kenya and operates in Tanzania, Colombia. That I was born and raised in Kenya.

Juliette Roy: She decided to become part of the solution and founded in 2009 the social enterprise Vavacoffee. Vava saw smiles where others only saw so poverty, corruption, and fears. She noticed the voices of coffee farmers, and then need to be heard. Coffee is the second most traded primary product in the world. And the global market is estimated at more than $100 billion.

Vava: Vavacoffee works with smallholder farmers. We are traders or other exporters of green coffee. So we export bottle coffee to different buyers, um, around the world.

Juliette Roy: Green coffee is coffee beans that haven’t been roasted yet. The beans are completely raw. It tastes quite different from regular roasted coffee and it has a milder more herbal flavor.

Vava: Then, then we also are roasters and also educators in terms of, uh, just providing producers with the knowledge that they need in order to have better market access. And for them to also understand what goes into producing a good quality coffee, how they can also negotiate better prices for themselves.

Juliette Roy: Vava decided to help coffee farmers transform their lives. She focuses on integrating more women and youth into the supply chain. Vava’s focus is on coffee education. So we work mostly with young people with a specific focus on women so far.

Vava: And we currently have run successful training for young women from coffee, growing origins in Tanzania. And then, uh, we currently have an ongoing project together with the Michigan university unit, the Williamson Davidson Institute. So we’re carrying out a research project in Colombia as regards, uh, our role in empowering women in the coffee supply chain. Whereas Vava coffee, of course also has the finished product itself as you’ve seen at the stand. Yeah. And, and also, I mean, yeah, Through this, we are also trying to expand our footprint in terms of seeing if we can get distribution in the US for the roasted coffee, as well as if we can get roasters in the region to start buying our coffee.

Juliette Roy: So how did you get into that line of work?

Vava: Curiosity. Yeah. I got into coffee purely out of curiosity, but also because I saw a problem that for me, um, seemed quite interesting to solve. I mean, I’m still in the process. Although we have found some viable solutions that of course we’ve been able to successfully implement, but I got into coffee. I was curious to find out why. Um, if coffee is such a highly demanded product, especially in the Western world, why producers can’t fetch, um, reasonable and sustainable prices that can help support their families. Yeah. So that got me into coffee, then it got me asking lots of questions and. Got me starting my company, and now we do what we do.

Juliette Roy: So you say that you know, your focus is one of your focus, but it’s really also on helping women in the coffee industry. Do you have an idea of what’s the percentage of women who are actually growing coffee worldwide?

Vava: I mean, I don’t have statistics on, you know, how many women are involved in the coffee sector, worldwide or growers. However, what I can say is that, I mean, in as much as a lot of our projects have been about, um, supporting and empowering women and also like, um, having them have differentiated their project, it’s more about how can we, um, for example, have women own land, um, rather than being the labor on the farm, like 89% of the labor on coffee farms, especially in Africa is provided by women.

Of course, Latin America is slightly opposite in terms of men being also the ones that provide the labor. But in Africa, it’s 89% of the women that are on the farms picking the coffee cherries. And yet they’re not the ones who receive the pay when the husband finally delivers the coffee to the factory, uh, the women never quite get the earning.

Vava: The women own less than 20% of the land on the planet in the United nation puts it at less than 10%.

Juliette Roy: However, women make up more than 50% of the population and 400 million women farmers and produce the majority of the world’s food supply. As I mentioned in previous episodes, changing this enormous disparity between women and men is one of the priorities of the United Nations, sustainable development goals that they want to achieve by 2030, clearly, there is something wrong and Vava is working hard to change these statistics.

Vava: So we’ve been trying to sort of shift that, and, um, have men empower women by giving them a few coffee trees, which they can own because land there’s a lot of land issues. And of course, it’s tough for, in some of these societies to have women’s own title deeds to the land. So. What we’ve managed to do is have groups of men in different growing regions, give the women coffee plants, which now they can have harvest and claim that as their source of income and totally separate the men’s coffee from the women’s coffee and also branded differently.
And that way also fetches, uh, you know, better prices. I mean, women historically have been better managers of financial resources, uh, and they make a lot of the decisions in the household anyway, as to where the money goes on, what’s needed in the family. So, I mean, with the trends we’ve seen in how women handle the little resources that they get, I mean, with the projects that we’ve carried out, we’ve seen that also play out, but also there’s, there’s more work to be done in terms of also just breaking the barriers regarding, you know, just having the women be brave enough to take some of the steps and have their own bank accounts, and also reinvesting in separate projects that are more beneficial to their households.

Juliette Roy: It is shocking to learn that more than 1.3 billion women on the planet don’t have bank account. It is roughly 40% of the world’s women population. So, what kind of challenges do you have right now with what you’re doing?

Vava: I think there’s more like systemic challenges, like, um, you know, we’re trying to fight a system that is really not working for producers and that’s really not been working for a while.

Vava: So through our work, we are also, of course, trying to influence certain policy changes to happen. It’s tough because a lot of the systems that we’re trying to break up in. Set up, you know, for a very long time, you know, way back to the colonial era in most of these countries.

Juliette Roy: According to the world economic forum, female farmers, like equal rights to own land in more than 90 countries to give you an idea, the land property can form up to 75% of the nation’s wealth. Ironically, 75% of the world’s population cannot prove they own the land on which they leave or work. 90% of Africa’s land is still completely undocumented. It tells us exactly how big the problem is. And women are the first affected by this matter. Women owning land impacts domestic violence reduction, but it also impacts all of humanity.
Women invest 90% of their income in their immediate families. And when women own property, they tend to have more power in the house, better access to food, and there is a visible better outcome for their children.

Vava: So for us, one does, uh, some of the challenges because it just makes business tougher. The other one is obviously this is a very capital intensive industry. So we’re constantly trying to fundraise and look for like large amounts of capital to enable us to run our own distribution in the markets that we are approaching.

Juliette Roy: Where can the listeners find your coffee right now?

Vava: Listeners can go online. There’s we have an online store Vava Coffee, Inc.Com. We do have some folks distributing it in the US solar and story.com also sells our coffee here in the US. I mean, so consumers can go directly online and order the coffee and it will be delivered to them. And if you’re a trader, I mean, we do export coffee to the US so we’re also shipping in bulk to the US so people can get the coffee that way as well.

Juliette Roy: Do you have a story of one woman that you work as impacted you could share?

Vava: Well, we have several, I mean, we did an amazing project in rift Valley in Kenya, where we worked with roughly more or less 400 women where we managed to launch the first fair trade certified women-grown coffee in the whole of Africa. We have done a lot of marketing around it. So I helped them do the website, do the social media, train them on quality, helped support them in the application for facility loan facilities so that they managed to get funding. And this project was not just about coffee alone. It was more like looking at the family as a unit. So the women got biogas units as well for their homes, which, you know, improves the quality of the life. Overall. What is a biogas unit? Biogas is basically a way of processing Cowden. Like you’re basically converting Cowden into energy, clean energy, which now the women are using to cook instead of cutting firewood, they’re not using it to cook in their homes and they’re able to do this, um, you know, in a sustainable manner because each of these families has cows.

Vava: So there were different partners involved in the project. Anyway. So biogas is a type of biofuel. It is produced from the decomposition of organic waste and that makes it environmentally friendly in Kenya. Most of the cooking happens with firewoods women and girls are the ones picking up the wood. It can lead to lower rates of school enrollment for girls, but also the risk of health issues related to smoking inhalation and life fires. So I would say that if I was to talk about groups of women we have impacted or specific women, the biggest impact has been through that. But also the other women who, whose lives have transformed that some of the women that work with us right now, I took them in as interns. And some of them are now full-time employees train them through, you know, the different possibilities, um, in coffee.
Vava: So through that, and I guess through the example of just slowly mentoring them, they now have like careers in coffee and various opportunities that are coming up in their lives.

Juliette Roy: Yeah. Wow. So you must be quite proud. That’s a cool and great impact.

Vava: Yeah. Yeah. I’m proud.

Juliette Roy: She’s tired today, but proud, very proud moments. So I’d like to ask, uh, who’s been your inspiration to do this type of work to becoming change-makers.

Vava: I mean, I draw inspiration from various places, various people. I can’t say that physically, that I’ve had any like good mentors locally, but I think I draw inspiration from other entrepreneurs that I know who’ve done amazing things. So I do read a lot. I do listen to lots of podcasts and a lot of the stories that I hear about be it, entrepreneurs. I mean, any entrepreneur around the world, who has managed to succeed despite all odds for me is an amazing person. So I read a lot of these stories, get inspired and I mean, also just draw inspiration from how great the world is. If we all just worked together to make it a better place.

Juliette Roy: But was it in your upbringing? Did you have, you know, like people are saying that for instance, you know, their parents kind of got them into community services or, you know, just kind of show them examples. Some, uh, some all, they’re not, I’m just curious.

Vava: I’m in, where I grew up, entrepreneurship was not a thing that you do after getting two degrees in school. It’s like I should have been, you know, carried on with my math career and been a successful finance person and, you know, start actually. However, of course, I do say that. I mean, I wouldn’t be where I am. Uh, if I sort of was not brought up with the discipline because entrepreneurship requires a lot of discipline. And I would say, of course, my parents are responsible for that level of discipline and commitment to something, but I draw and get a lot of energy from just people around me that do great things.

Juliette Roy: Did you grow up in the US or did you grow up in Kenya?

Vava: Kenya, Kenya. Great.

Juliette Roy: Anything else you want to say

Vava: Just by coffee, drink coffee, support our farmers. I mean, I think last, maybe last thing I would say to people listening is just, I mean start asking questions. When you go to your coffee shop and find out where they get the coffee, find out how they source it. And in that way, I think consumers can really help shift some of the things that we’re working on in the industry if they start asking more questions.

Vava: Thank you for listening to be your change.

I’m your host, Juliette, Roy, follow us on Instagram at BeYour Change podcast.