on the hillsides where the Amazonian forests meet the Andes mountain
range, the Pangoa District is blessed with rain, fertile soil, and a
tropical climate seldom below 23 degrees centigrade, ideal for coffee
and cocoa cultivation.
Esperanza (or Hope) Dionisio works as first female manager of the
Pangoa Cooperative. She fell in love with the area when her parents took
her horse riding here at age 12. “I saw this precious forest and was
stunned,” she recalls and she knew then that her future would be forever
linked to this place.
Esperanza has been manager of the Pangoa cooperative for more than 20
years. When she first started the cooperative was in profound crisis:
“We owed one million dollars, we had to fix the accounts of the Central
Coffee Cooperatives of Peru, and of the cooperative’s hydroelectric
system.” Drawing on all of her leadership and managerial skills as well
as vision, Esperanza managed to keep the cooperative afloat. Today, it
is a leading exporter with organic and fair-trade certification that
employs more than 700 people. Under her leadership, the cooperative has
become a developmental force for the province of Satipo in Junín.
the path the success was not easy. Esperanza, like many women from the
Peruvian countryside, she had to overcome many obstacles to forge a
place in the world of coffee. She remembers that when she started
working as a technical assistant, the men watched her with wonder and
suspicion. “As a woman, I had to work twice as hard as a man to show
that I was capable.”
about the little value placed on women’s contribution as farmers,
workers, and entrepreneurs in the coffee sector, in 1997, Esperanza
developed the Women’s Committee of Pangoa Cooperative (CODEMU). She was
determined to promote women’s leadership, empowerment and training.
Esperanza knew this was crucial in a region where the majority of women
are employed in agriculture, and female farmers earn almost 50 per cent
less than their male counterparts. Women also account for 75 per cent of
the adult illiterate population, and own less than 25 per cent of the
the beginning, we started by training women in self-esteem,” she
explains. “There was a lot of alcoholism and women were complaining
that their husbands mistreated them. We would tell them: you have to
love yourself first and demand respect.”
2000, training in business management, gender equality and leadership
were coupled with a microcredit fund for women to improve their coffee
production, their homes, and to diversify their incomes. For many
women, participating in these trainings has meant personal growth and
development. “It changed my life,” says Emma Perez, vice-president of
the Women’s Committee. “Before, I was dedicated only to my home and my
children, but since I started participating in the training, my
worldview has changed, and I started to value myself, to develop as a
person,” she explains. “Now I have my own business.”
work has enabled women members of the cooperative to achieve
empowerment and access decision-making spaces previously denied them.
Now, they are leaders and occupy positions in different areas of the
cooperative governing body. “Gone are the times when women were not
valued. Today, thanks to training, women also play a role within the
cooperative,” says Juan Manuel Aquize, Cooperative President.
In 2016, England’s Taylors of Harrogate,
a toasting company that buys coffee from the cooperative learnt about
Esperanza’s work to empower women. They decided to create a limited
coffee edition produced by women in her name. Sales profits were
ploughed directly back into CODEMU’s activities. “It is a great honour
to have been on this label, but above all is the acknowledgement of the
women farmers,” says Esperanza.
Inspired by this, the cooperative has now developed a coffee brand produced by indigenous women, called Warrior in honour of their efforts to cultivate an environmentally sustainable coffee.
not only promotes women’s empowerment, but also organic coffee
production in harmony with the forest. She has witnessed how, in the
last few decades, vast areas have been deforested to introduce crops
such as pineapple or ginger. “All these areas have originally been
forests, that’s life, the natural cycle, we have to learn to produce
under the forest, research possible compatible crops, not just introduce
crops for money,” she explains.
2000, the cooperative has promoted the sustainable production of
coffee, as well as a reforestation program planting timber trees
associated with this crop. Besides contributing to the conservation of
the ecosystems and mitigating the effects of climate change, in the
medium-term, this will mean an additional source of income for the
a partner in the National Coffee Board, the Pangoa Cooperative has also
been helping to develop a National Action Plan to improve coffee’s
competiveness and sustainability. This is an initiative promoted by the
United Nations Development Programme in Peru, through the Green
Commodities Program, and financed by the Swiss Corporation (SECO). It
supports the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the National
Coffee Council to lead the development of the Action Plan, with the
active participation of stakeholders from across the supply chain.
Esperanza, one pending issue is the need to define a governance model
and an institutional framework to guide the sector. For her, the Plan
will fulfil an important role in the definition of a joint vision – one
that benefits and promotes the participation of all actors along the
supply chain, including women.