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Home News We Work Hard, Men Take Our Money — Women In Coffee Production 

We Work Hard, Men Take Our Money — Women In Coffee Production 

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Ritah Mukasa

Coffee is a significant foreign exchange earner for the economy and a source of livelihood for many Ugandans.

In the Elgon region, thousands of women are actively involved in the production and supply chains but their effort is not recognized or appreciated according to Agnes Kirabo, the Executive Director at Food Rights Alliance (FRA). 

She says women contribute over 75% of the labour in planting, weeding, harvesting, drying, pulping and packing coffee. They also transport it to the sales point but they gain little from the proceeds because men take the money. 

For example, for years, Betty (second name withheld), a mother of seven and resident of Gabusironi village in Bulambuli district has not benefitted from the hard work because her husband takes the money. 

She is a member of Elgon mothers, an umbrella for over 600 women in coffee growing. 

Jenipher Sarah Sambazi, head of Elgon mothers says women in coffee production need a lot of support. Photos by Ritah Mukasa

Elgon mothers is under Mt. Elgon Agroforestry Communities Cooperative Enterprise Ltd which brings together more than 3,000 coffee growers spread across seven districts including; Kapchorwa, Bulambuli, Mbale, Manafwa, Sironko, Namisindwa and Bududa. 

“I spend most of my time in the plantation tilling the land, planting and weeding the coffee,” she narrates adding; “I also harvest, dry and pack it in sacks of 70kgs each which I carry on my back in turns to the center.”

Betty’s husband shows up to pick up the money and disappears for weeks or so. He resurfaces with empty hands and if she asks about the money, he batters her.

However, Betty is not alone. 

Jenipher Sarah Sambazi, head of Elgon mothers says, such exploitation exists in many families where women toil in vain. 

“Women carry sacks on their backs and walk miles to the selling points, sometimes under heavy rains. They return home with only a rope they used to tie the sack,” she says. 

Some men use the money to marry more women while others blow it on alcohol and prostitutes.  

As if that is not bad enough, Sambazi says, women have to singlehandedly fend for the children yet they have no rights over the land and it can be sold without the wife’s consent. This injustice has forced many children out of school and into early marriage. 

More challenges

On the other hand, the few women who have full rights over their coffee also earn little from it owing to crafty middlemen, poor negotiation skills and impassable roads, especially during the rainy season. The poor post-harvest handling of coffee and storage also compromises quality. 

“Our co-operatives need support to amplify women’s voices, strengthen our bargaining power, and provide us with resources and opportunities,” Sambazi says.

She adds that these women also use rudimentary methods which are cumbersome. 

However, Benard Mujuni, the commissioner for equity and rights at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development advises women to legalize their businesses and benefit from several projects at the ministry that target women in agriculture and value addition, food security plus entrepreneurship.

LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Women pulping coffee in Bulambuli district.

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