We're using this International Women's Day as a chance to reflect on how proud and humbled we are by the great women coffee farmers and great women managers in the coffee world.
These women are truly inspirational – their leadership has helped their coops navigate the rough waters of climate change, economic disaster, pricing crisis and even war. The entire Fair Trade movement and social justice movement within the coffeelands has been shaped by these strong women. Read on to learn more about two of our coffee cooperative "gerencias" (or GMs) Esperanza Dionisio from Pangoa in Peru, and Merling Preza from Prodecoop in Nicaragua.
Esperanza Dioniso (Pangoa)
Esperanza has been at the helm of Pangoa for decades. She came to Pangoa as a successful female agronomist, a true pioneer in her industry.
I remember back in 2003, when I first met Esperanza. She approached me at the annual Specialty Coffee Expo, and asked me to sample her coffee. She and her partners told me their coffee was organic and Fair Trade, but they'd never made a sale! They told me of their lofty goals for the coop, and I thought "hey, if the coffee checks out, why not take a chance on Pangoa?"
Of course the coffee was delicious, so I promptly bought the first container. I flew down to Peru to celebrate with them, and brought some of their roasted coffee to share, (they'd never tasted their own coffee before!) and we haven't looked back.
Esperanza is a strong, compassionate community leader, and a true Sustainability Champion (for which she won an award in 2019 from the specialty coffee industry). She led Pangoa to achieve all those "lofty goals" from way back when - from composting and recycling programs, to the revitalization of a processing plant, and more recently, Bird-Friendly® certification and a massive reforestation project.
Here you can here in her own words, how we have partnered together over the years:
Merling Preza (Prodecoop)
Prodecoop and Dean's Beans both started in 1993, and we've been working together since the very next year! And Merling has been there since the beginning, blossoming into the leadership role of General Manager of the coop not long after. I am always heartened and humbled when I visit the farmers of Nicaragua. In a country that has seen war, devastating impacts of climate change and la roya, the people are amazingly upbeat, compassionate and forgiving - a lesson for us all. And at the helm of this positivity and drive is Merling. Steady, articulate and compassionate, Merling truly has the best interests of the coop members at heart, always. Last year, she addressed and challenged specialty coffee as a whole by very openly expressing her frustration at the farmers continuously subsidizing the coffee industry during the coffee pricing crisis:
"The truth is that sometimes I get tired. Sometimes I get upset...sometimes it frustrates me, but I think it's our responsibility to keep trying to make sense of this, because our families are there - our families in the fields - and they are suffering the situation. [It is a] "too eat or not too eat" matter...So even though it's tiring, I think it's my responsibility to keep telling you.
This is a perfect example of her deeply personal drive for the work she does advocating for cooperatives and farmers. Together, with this passion and advocacy in mind, we have co-developed programs in children's literacy, maternal health, reforestation, la roya education and prevention, and a cafe to benefit landmine victims.
Here I am with Merling. It's been a while since my hair has been this color, but this just goes to show how long we've been partners!
You are a true inspiration to not only girls and women interested in coffee, but to the entire specialty coffee industry. Thank you for your hard work and dedication.