Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union wins Specialty Coffee Association of America Sustainability Award 2015 for its pioneering approach to gender justice

‘Gender Action Learning Systems’ (GALS) is the inclusive methodology used by Bukonzo Joint across all of its group activities, from farmer workshops to board meetings, to enhance the participation of women within the coffee value chain. Bukonzo Joint also uses the methodology to promote youth leadership and to assist other cooperatives in replicating the approach.

Today, women represent 85% of Bukonzo Joint’s 5,200 farmer members and 55% of its board. Bukonzo Joint also makes a convincing business case for prioritising gender justice, having successfully established itself in the specialty coffee sector in recent years, regularly achieving SCAA cupping scores of 85+.

In the remote Rwenzori Mountains in Western Uganda, rural communities around Kyarumba were isolated for many years from international coffee markets. Although women carried out much of the work on the land few had joint or sole land and home ownership, leaving them financially vulnerable and dependent on their husbands or male relatives. Without land ownership, women were unable to be members of cooperatives, or to directly access savings and credit facilities. Within the household, most women had very limited control over income and expenditure. From its beginnings in 1992 as a savings self-help group, Bukonzo Joint has been dedicated to improving this situation through encouraging the equal participation of women.

Twin has worked closely with Bukonzo Joint since 2010 on developing high quality coffee and on access to markets as a member of the Joint Marketing Initiative jmicoffee.org . Bukonzo Joint is one of seven East African coffee cooperatives currently partnering with Twin in the Maanda project funded by Comic Relief to build stronger cooperatives through investment in quality, financial management, governance, certification, marketing and sustainable agriculture with gender as a cross-cutting theme. The GALS methodology is a key component of the programme.

Bukonzo Joint first implemented GALS as a project with Oxfam Novib in 2007 with the aim of empowering women in rural communities. It evolved from a 2004 project in Participatory Action Learning Systems. GALS has a community-led approach, with women and men participating together in workshops. The aim is to reach new understandings together for lasting change. In their words, ‘Balanced trees bear richer fruit’.

GALS uses simple graphics, drawings and diagrams with groups to work towards social, economic and political transformation. One exercise is to create a ‘gender balance tree’. Participants draw pictures onto a tree outline; at the roots they draw the different activities carried out by women and by men in coffee farming families; on the branches they draw different ways that income is spent and by whom. This helps people in a very practical way to visualise and understand different aspects of their lives and identify ways forward. Through the GALS workshops, women and men often come to understand the benefits of more equal participation.

Bukonzo Joint has adapted the methodology and now uses it across the organisation, from helping members to understand coffee processing and the production of good quality coffee; to considering leadership and opportunities for youth in the coffee value chain; to improving participation in board meetings. They have helped to implement similar programmes in cooperatives in DR Congo, Rwanda, Sudan and Tanzania.

The business case for gender justice is clear. Equality, including women’s participation in the cooperative and the household, is a crucial factor in the coffee quality equation, since it is women who are often responsible for coffee production. Seeing the direct link between better quality coffee and increased income has motivated farmers to improve practices, invest in increasing productivity and to harvest only the ripest coffee cherry. Bukonzo Joint is investing in post-harvest production: milling, sorting and grading facilities, which will be the first of their kind in the region, to capture more of the value chain and ensure they have greater control over the quality through to export.

Bukonzo Joint hopes that the international acclaim it receives for the SCAA Sustainability Award will encourage more organisations to adopt the approach. Bukonzo Joint will be presented with the award at an awards reception at the SCAA Annual Exposition in Seattle, USA on Friday 10 April 2015.

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