East Africa Coffee Story: Empowering Women and Youth through Partnerships for Forests

In recent years, the importance of nature-based solutions in combating environmental challenges has gained significant attention. These solutions leverage the power of nature to address issues such as deforestation, climate change, and biodiversity loss. One notable initiative making strides in this area is the Partnerships for Forests East Africa (P4F EA) programme.

P4F EA is a UK-aid funded programme working across six countries in East Africa to forge public-private partnerships which support the adoption of sustainable practices and reduce deforestation in the region. The programme has demonstrated success in channelling private investment into partnerships in the coffee sector, with a priority placed on the inclusion of women and youth in the program. There are a range of social challenges at the household and farm level for smallholders across the sector, including unequal opportunities for women, living-income gaps, and limited access to technical and financial resources.

In the case of the UGACOF project based in Southwestern Uganda, a gender analysis of the target farmers highlighted that women perform most on-farm activities (such as weeding and mulching) while men take the roles of marketing and selling. To address this gender inequity, UGACOF adopted a Gender Action Learning System (GALS), a community-led empowerment methodology that addresses gender gaps through trainings. The trainings focus on the division of revenue, division of household planning e.g. decisions regarding how to use income, gender inclusiveness within the community discussions, and access to finance for coffee-growing smallholders. After the adoption of the GALS system, Ugacof noted that women’s participation on agroforestry, gender, and business trainings increased by 30% to 500 women from nearly none before GALS. According to UGACOF’s Sustainability Project Manager, the trainings helped in “increasing the coffee volume, improving the quality of coffee and encouraging farmers to put more land under coffee [agroforestry]”. This transfer of best practices ensures that coffee-growing households in the area implement regenerative practices and that knowledge is retained at community level, thus increasing the long-term sustainability of the coffee value chain and the increase in income from productive coffee farming.

Under the P4F EA partnership with the Global Coffee Platform, key stakeholders explored how existing regulations can be improved to support agroforestry and forest protection practices. The Uganda Country Platform outlined a Collective Action Initiative called Youth for Coffee in Uganda which contributed to increasing farmers’ income and economic prosperity through embedding agroforestry in coffee farming systems. This initiative focused on the renovation and rehabilitation of coffee trees in Uganda and engaged rural youth to provide services to smallholder coffee farmers who have older, unproductive trees. For example, youth were trained on sustainable rehabilitation, renovation, and agroforestry on coffee production. Nampijja Patricia, a member of Zirobwe Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative, was one of the youths trained under this initiative. She indicated an eagerness to utilize the skills gained through the training and aims to “use [her] knowledge and skills to offer training to farmers and find a job at an agricultural organisation.” Under this partnership, over 180 youth were trained, out of which 29 were women, that secured employment opportunities as Youth Business Units under the Youth for Coffee Collective Action Initiative.

These stories are just highlights of P4F EA program aimed at promoting sustainable land use to create a more environmentally friendly and socially responsible coffee sector. Through partnerships and collective action, these initiatives propose models that not only benefit coffee farmers but also contribute to environmental conservation and economic development in the region. It is vital to collaborate with key stakeholders across the coffee industry and adopt inclusive models of community-led land management to ensure a socially and environmentally beneficial coffee value chain.