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Virtual Collaboration Program For Smallholder Women Farmers in Costa Rica

Low-cost, high-accessibility program to improve knowledge and direct market access for smallholder women coffee producers in Costa Rica

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Bean Voyage supports a network of 67 smallholder womxn coffee producers in Costa Rica with training on best practices in coffee production and access to international markets. 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are unable to host workshops and are facing the loss of purchasing contracts due to the declining market. 

The canceled contracts of coffee have resulted in more than $200,000 in losses for a key Bean Voyage partner – a collective of 67 smallholder womxn coffee producers in Costa Rica. 

This loss represents up to 75% of annual income for the smallholder womxn coffee producers. 

On the household level, this means decreased funds for their children’s education and healthcare for the family and leads to hunger. 

On the farm level, this leads to producers’ inability to purchase seeds and fertilizers that can result in little to no annual harvest in the coming years. 

Moreover, the severe cut in their annual income means accumulating interest on loans of womxn producers who already had challenges accessing favorable interest rates due to their gender, and can expose entire farming families to an unprecedented level of a financial risk considering the limited social infrastructure that can support them. 

So, we launched Colaboración Virtual 2020 (COVIR-20) – a response to the COVID-19 pandemic to continue providing key knowledge programs and market access support to smallholder producers by leveraging existing low-cost and highly-accessible technology such as WhatsApp**. 

Each week, producers receive curated learning materials via WhatsApp in voice notes and images. We then host live sessions on WhatsApp where the producers are given a space to ask questions and get tested for their understanding by playing interactive games. 

To Pilot COVIR-20, we’ve tested our e-learning on post-harvest practices and market programs for all 67 coffee producers in the collective since March 2020. We have also gained early momentum for the market access program as we have successfully negotiated contracts with small-scale roasters in the U.S, Canada and Europe. We aspire to continue leveraging storytelling and social media to find a market for each of our producers’ coffee. Learning from the pilot, we plan to expand the training program to 700 vulnerable producers in Costa Rica to provide them with immediate COVID-19 Relief support.

**The use of WhatsApp as a platform was critical at this point as we hoped to quickly pivot to providing educational and social support to vulnerable women coffee producers while social distancing. Rural women have limited access to technology, internet connectivity, and are more likely to have challenges reading and writing. The average age of a coffee farmer in Costa Rica is 50+ years old. Therefore, voice notes and visual assistance are key to engage them.

What is the need are you focusing on?

(1) Lack of social support infrastructure supporting smallholder women in rural communities (in Costa Rica and beyond) during this pandemic exposing women often living alone to higher physical, and emotional risks.

(2) Higher financial risks for smallholder women coffee producers due to the size of their harvest, the higher chance of contracts being canceled (due to being 'new', less known, and the 'minority' in the market traditionally) as the importers and coffee shops manage their financial risks, and unfavorably high rates of interest due to their gender and economic status (if they have access to loans at all; land ownership favors men culturally, and women, even when they own land, tend to be smaller than that of men's).

Which type of submission are you sharing?

  • Sharing an actual pivot your organization has already made

Describe the business pivot or adaptation in 3-4 sentences.

Each week, producers receive curated learning materials via WhatsApp in voice notes and pictures. We then host live sessions on WhatsApp where the producers are given a space to ask questions and get tested for their understanding by playing interactive games. We piloted our e-learning program with 67 coffee producers in the collective since March 2020. In addition, we are using these groups to constantly communicate with international buyers to form a transparent trade relationship between the buyers and producers of coffee.

Do you plan to implement this solution?

  • Yes

Describe the impact that this solution will create in the world.

Implementing this solution will improve farmer's retention of knowledge on the coffee supply chain, reducing the knowledge and resource gap that is currently plaguing smallholder women coffee producers. Plus, greater knowledge for the farmers will lead to improved yield, and improved household income from their coffee sales. Finally, this solution will create direct market linkages between the producers and buyers of coffee, allowing for improved margins from coffee sales due to a transparent and relationship based trade. Overall, this project has the capacity to increase the income and quality of life of smallholder coffee families amidst and post COVID-19 crisis.

What is the name of your business or organization?

Bean Voyage: Womxn-Powered Coffee

What does your business/company do? Whose needs does your business/company address? Who do you serve?

Bean Voyage provides training, market access, and distribution services to put smallholder coffee producers, notably women and youth, on a path to sustainability. We offer a two-step program for smallholder coffee families. First, we facilitate a training consisting of a comprehensive curriculum to improve farm productivity and coffee quality, so producers can improve their yield and earning potential from coffee. The curriculum consists of bite-size materials and is delivered using low-cost, high-accessibility technology such as Whatsapp. Second, we facilitate a direct marketplace between our producers and buyers of coffee through which a fair price is negotiated and paid to producers, ensuring improved income and livelihoods for farmers.

What is your profession?

Social Entrepreneur

Where are you located (country)?

Costa Rica

Where are you located (region)?

  • Latin America and the Caribbean

What industry is your business/company in?

  • Agriculture/Farming
  • Education
  • Food Services
  • Non-Profit/Philanthropy

How many people does your business/company employ?

  • 0-10

How old is your business/company?

  • 2-5 years old

Which classification describes your organization/business?

  • Nonprofit/NGO

What kind of stakeholders and partnerships are needed to pursue this solution?

  • Funding- Grants
  • Funding- Loans
  • Funding- Investment
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- NGOs
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Private Sector
  • Stakeholders/Partnerships- Government

Do you need help building partnerships and finding partners?

  • Yes

If Yes to the above, please share 1-2 sentences describing the specific help you desire.

As we complete the initial pilot of COVIR-20, we are looking for funding and strategic partners who can help us scale this program for 700+ vulnerable womxn coffee producers in Costa Rica by the end of 2020. In addition, we would like for this partnership to bring forward the concept of global scalability, by offering the e-learning program and market access for more than 5,000 smallholder womxn coffee producers in other parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia by 2022.

What do you think are the main barriers to implementing this solution?

We are a team of four people who are developing the e-learning curriculum, creating the materials, administering the training, monitoring its impact, and creating market linkages. The limited nature of our resources means that we are not currently able to scale this program for more than 300 people. However, with more human resources we can scale this program for more than 1000 people in the next six months. For example, we need developers to help automate the processes of distributing curriculum content, and we need field officers in each community to help recruit producers and provide coaching services so that they can transition into using the e-learning program.

If you are currently working on a pivot, what have you learned so far?

We have piloted this pivot for 67 smallholder coffee producers since March 2020. The two things that have gone really well are: the engagement rate (participation, classwork, and homework) has been at 71% and the participants have shown great interest in improving their knowledge and participating in this virtual community. The second early sign of success has been in the form of low attrition rates (2.9%) which is well below our target of 7% and shows that producers are not only actively participating, but also generally able to adapt to the technological solution that we're offering. A couple of things that could be done better include scalability and technology access. At its current rate, the program is hard to scale without the use of a bot or an alternative app to automate the administration of the curriculum. The second thing that we have learned is that producer knowledge levels are different for each person and we need to offer customized programs for different groups.

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your solution? Are you participating in these efforts?


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