Turuwark Zalalam Warkineh is Assistant Professor in the department of Adult Education and Community Development at the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences in Bahir Dar University (BDU), Ethiopia. She underwent a field study in the CAFE-project, HRNS implemented during a first phase with The Löfberg Family Foundation, the Lavazza Foundation and Austrian Development Agency (ADA). After the fieldtrip, we got this personal letter, that we want to share with you – without further comments.
Recently, I was lucky enough to visit a number of areas where the HNRS CAFÉ project is working, and I was very impressed with the effect it is having on people’s lives, especially women. Many of the coffee farmers I met told me about the improvements they had seen in coffee productivity, quality and marketing. They said that, in the past, local coffee buyers would almost always reject their coffee as being of poor quality, which meant they had to sell at rock bottom prices. However, once they had been trained by the project, they were able to supply good quality coffee to their respective cooperatives at reasonable prices. They also told me about the improvements they had seen in their incomes and livelihoods. Many of the farmers, both men and women, said that they had lived in utter poverty for several years, sometimes unable to fulfill even their basic necessities, but the income they now got from coffee has significantly changed their lives for the better. I met farmers who had constructed new houses, rented additional farmland, bought town houses, or built commercial properties in nearby towns to generate rental incomes. Others have bought farm equipment, and many had purchased household items they had never imagined possessing, such as televisions and armchairs. The farmers said that they had become much better in all areas of production, including seeding, growing, harvesting, drying and storing their coffee. They felt very confident in applying the skills that the project had helped them to develop, and I am confident that this knowledge transfer will ensure the long-term sustainability of the project and all it has achieved.
“Some husbands confessed that they used to beat their wives, make them wash their feet as a sign of obedience, didn’t talk properly to them, and even hid money from them.”
Another breath-taking result I noticed was that couples were communicating with each other and interacting better. Some husbands confessed that they used to beat their wives, make them wash their feet as a sign of obedience, didn’t talk properly to them, and even hid money from them. But after going through the project’s unique gender household approach they were planning together and making decisions together on everything from household matters to coffee planting. They had joint bank accounts, talked about what they were spending money on, respected each other’s ideas, and cared for each other. Some husbands told me that they regretted the time they had lost living in ignorance and dominating their wives, and that the positive couple communication and interaction strategies they had learnt had also had beneficial effects on their children, friends and neighbors.
The villages that I visited were well known for practicing traditional gender roles in which women were expected to do all the household work and tend the yard gardens, but were not allowed to go to any meetings, trainings or other community gatherings – that was the man’s role. Women were not allowed to sell anything, even if they needed money to run the house. I spoke to women who told me they would sell coffee secretly and hide the money from their husbands to buy household essentials like salt, oil, sugar etc, but that gender roles were changing thanks to the project; men were starting to take on “women’s jobs” such as housework, were brewing coffee, cooking stews, cleaning the house, making beds, looking after babies, and so on. The situation may still be far from perfect, but there have been amazing improvements that can act as a role model for other communities.
The project advises the farmers to use intercropping methods when planting new coffee trees, and many of the farmers now have viable vegetable and fruit gardens. Some said they always thought cabbages were useless and gave them to their cows, but I have seen how the project helps them to understand how cultivating fruit and vegetables as part of their farming practice helps with both heath and income diversification.
An interesting byproduct of the intervention has been an increase in adult literacy and numeracy in the villages. The project gives the farmers colorful manuals and attractive reading materials, which are stimulating farmers and their families’ desire to read and learn from them. The villages have a “literate environment” which is not often seen, and perhaps the project could look at strengthening this in the future.
I was impressed as much by the project’s intervention approaches as by its results. I work in adult education and understand the principles of how adults are motivated to learn, and the challenges that rural women in particular face in accessing further education and I found the project’s training and facilitation approaches to be relevant and appropriate, and in line adult learning theories and principles. Projects usually gather participants together in a hall and deliver trainings, but farmers in one village told me how the project establishes Farmer Field Schools (FFS) to provide various types of training, and farmer’s homes, farms and social areas to deliver its materials. Adults learn best when trainings are considered authentic, and FFS is particularly useful for rural women who are traditionally excluded from agriculture and rural services. Village women repeatedly told me how empowering and accessible the FFS were, even for nursing mothers, and how the project workers encourage them to become FFS facilitators.
Finally, I was also impressed by the project’s comprehensive approach to the whole household. Many projects that work to empower women neglect men, and target women only. This project works with whole families, and I could see how relevant this is for healthy family interaction and communication, and how it leads to sustained family harmony and empowerment. I have seen couples working out plans together and hanging them on the walls of their house and opening joint bank accounts.