There is no social sector more invisible, less understood and less served than that of rural women, despite the vital role they play in our communities.
Blue Mountain coffee is one of the most expensive specialty beans in the world, supplying a super-niche luxury coffee market, costing over $58 a pound. Its precious berries grow on the cold, steep slopes of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain range, more than 1,000 meters high, and support more than 4,000 smallholder farmers. However, this luxury coffee production area has not escaped the effects of climate change.
The livelihoods of Jamaican women coffee growers, who are most affected, have been impacted by variability in rainfall, prolonged dry seasons, reduced yields and increased pests and diseases. This gave rise to irregular production and worse coffee, which caused economic losses.
These conditions have also increased the cost of maintaining coffee farms, as the agricultural inputs needed to increase yields and treat diseases such as coffee rust are often expensive.
But this is not the only case where rural women experience a greater impact of climate change, as women often have a greater dependence on natural resources to sustain their livelihoods. This is affected by hydrometeorological events such as hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts and landslides, among others.
Regrettably, although Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) contributes less than 10% of global emissions, its economies, sectors, infrastructure and people have disproportionately suffered from the consequences and adverse effects. According to the State of the Climate in Latin America and the Caribbean 2020 report, the passage of hurricanes Eta and Iota wreaked havoc in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, while Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and the Argentine Pantanal region experienced droughts and a unprecedented fire. Glaciers in the Chilean and Argentine Andes continue to retreat and the Caribbean region continues to suffer from a rainfall deficit.
Furthermore, given that many LAC economies depend on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, food and nutrition security is also in the spotlight. It is predicted that by 2050, Central America and the Caribbean will experience a one-fifth reduction in agricultural yields from beans and maize.
Other areas that remain highly exposed and vulnerable are human health, water resources, settlements and biodiversity. From an economic point of view, the annual damage to the region due to the impacts of climate change is estimated at US$ 100 billion by 2050, which is almost equivalent to Ecuador’s GDP.
Particularly for the Caribbean region, approximately $22 billion in losses is projected. Therefore, the devastating impacts on the economic, cultural, environmental, physical and social fabric of countries will erode any progress and progress.
In the midst of these threats, the gender face of climate change remains a critical issue, as the difference in the adaptive capacities of men and women continues to generate concern. The recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported on the uneven impact of climate change on men and women. This is mainly due to gender inequality and inequity that influence the control and access to goods, resources, services and decision-making processes.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) recognizes that “women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster.” And rural women, especially in our region, are expected to be the most affected by the impacts of climate change.
But women play a key role in the food system, where they represent 43% of the agricultural workforce, contributing to the food security of communities as producers, planters, harvesters, rural workers, ranchers, as well as in domestic care.
However, despite his contribution, his work is often not recognized. Their reality is marked by poverty and structural inequalities, mainly because they have less access to productive resources. The impacts of climate change and catastrophes tend to exacerbate these widespread problems, thus increasing their vulnerability.
According to Oxfam, around 30% of rural women in Latin America own agricultural land, while access to technical assistance is only available to less than 5%. For example, in Brazil and Guatemala, rural women face reduced access to credit, technology, mechanization, land and other assets, which limits their ability to adapt and make decisions.
In Colombia, climate change has affected coffee producers by exacerbating the spread of coffee rust. But their ability to manage the pest has been hampered by a lack of access to technical expertise, information and control over decision-making. Similar cases have been repeated in countries such as Haiti and other small islands in the Caribbean, where rural women face socioeconomic barriers rooted in gender inequality, which increases their vulnerability and increases their risk in the face of climate disasters.
For women coffee growers in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, the impacts of climate change have also been fueled by the disparity in the reception of advisory services. According to a pilot survey by IWCA Jamaica (JAWiC), a farmer with 10 years of experience realizes that “people [as partes interessadas da indústria em geral] want to help men more or look out for men” when it comes to farm management.
Women also point to barriers in accessing resources, technical training and opportunities that allow upward mobility in the coffee value chain, as well as the ability to occupy leadership spaces within their communities. This gender dynamic and unequal power relationship is also illustrated by the fact that some women perceive their contribution as “minor” compared to men.
However, ignoring women’s contribution to rural livelihoods and limiting their opportunities not only diminishes a nation’s economic potential, but also weakens its resilience to the impacts of climate change.
In the case of Jamaican producers, they tried to change this reality, facilitating access to training, technical knowledge, financing and productive resources. But empowering rural women not only requires a gender perspective in institutional reform and investment in services, but also requires addressing the deeply ingrained cultural, socioeconomic and patriarchal norms that limit their productive capacity and decision-making power. This will also allow humanity to continue enjoying one of the best coffees in the world.