Sainsbury’s claims UK first with launch of ‘women’s coffee’ for International Women’s Day and Fairtrade Fortnight

Sainsbury’s has launched the first ‘grown by women’ coffee to hit mainstream shelves in the UK in partnership with the ethical trading organisation, Twin.

The fully-traceable Kopakama Ejo Heza Fairtrade Ground Coffee carries a premium to support women growers, many of whom were affected by the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The coffee results from a development partnership with the ethical trading organisation Twin, and the roasters Finlays, which saw the launch of the UK’s first single origin coffee from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Sainsbury’s last year.

Kopakama is located on Rwanda’s western border and while conditions are perfect for growing premium-grade Arabica coffee, local coffee farmers have struggled to earn a living due to economic and social challenges following the genocide. Many of the cooperative’s 247 women members lost their husbands in the violence and subsequently faced particular difficulties in earning a living.

The co-operative also purchased a communal farm and coffee trees to allow women without land to join the cooperative and benefit from the initiative. The very first harvest from the communal farm has gone into this Taste the Difference coffee, alongside coffee fully-traceable to small farms owned by women. Sainsbury’s pays premium for the coffee to support women members. 

Leonille Mukankwiro, Kopakama member, said: “My husband was a member of the cooperative and so the coffee cherries were delivered to Kopakama in his name. Every year when we got paid we would fight – I didn’t know how much money we got or how it got spent. So I decided to become a member myself, in my own right.  Things are much better now – having control over the income is a big improvement for me and the family.”

The initiative has resulted in a significant increase in Kopakama’s female membership and has given women a greater say in the home and within the organisation. The women named the project Ejo Heza, or a better tomorrow, as coming together has helped them move on from the past, create strong friendships and learn from each other. Women’s Coffee also seeks to connect UK consumers with women growers, increasing visibility for women producers, who provide the majority of agricultural labour in developing countries in most commodities.

Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s brand, said: “Kopakama Fairtrade coffee illustrates the vital role women play in agriculture across the World and especially in Africa where 66% of smallholder farmers are women.  I’m glad that the hard work of the Ejo Heza project, known as ‘better tomorrow’ resulted in the launch of such a great coffee. As the World’s largest retailer of Fairtrade, we’re always looking to ensure benefits are seen throughout the whole supply chain while offering our customers a great tasting, quality product.”

Nicolas Mounard, Twin’s managing director, said: “In coffee, women tend to take the lead in fermenting and drying the beans, where taste and quality can be determined. Any business interested in securing a consistent supply of quality coffee should therefore value and support women suppliers. Women’s Coffee gives visibility to these often overlooked main characters, giving an enormous boost to their sense of pride in their work.”

The women each work one day a week on the communal land, sharing farming knowledge and childcare responsibilities. They have also formed a women’s association and have a permanent female representative on Kopakama’s Board. The women’s association is responsible for maintaining the communal land and for managing the funds generated by the Women’s Coffee premium.

The UK’s Department for International Development’s Food Retail Industry Challenge Fund helped to create the first link between Sainsbury’s and Twin in 2011.

Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, said: “Helping women in countries such as Rwanda to earn a living and support their family is the best way to beat chronic poverty. I am proud that Britain works closely with organisations like Twin and Sainsbury’s to ensure that this project makes a real and lasting difference to the people who need it most.”