Women in Coffee

Central American coffee crops were hit hard by coffee leaf rust, or roya, in the 2013-2014 growing season. The fungal disease prevents the coffee bush from producing berries, losing the coffee crop. Large drops in unemployment throughout Mexico, Central America and Colombia, have affected people's ability to earn their livelihoods. 

While volunteering in a migrant's shelter in Tucson, Arizona in March of 2015, I met various families from Guatemala and other parts of Central America who reported migrating northwards because they lost their jobs on coffee fincas. These were mostly men.

In 2016-2017, I conducted fieldwork in Guatemala and Nicaragua. I interviewed 130 women about the impacts of coffee leaf rust, and the out-migration of people from small coffee communities.

Coffee is one of the largest traded commodities in the world. Its producers, especially small ones, can be affected greatly by the volatile global economy. Global capitalism so effectively obscures the interconnectedness of the product and the means of production (labor). I find it important to bring light to the culture and struggles of women on coffee farms, in order to connect coffee drinkers in the global north with another side of the system we are all a part of. The ways in which women have responded and adapted can be a model for struggles elsewhere.

This project was supported by the National Geographic Young Explorer Program. 


Diversification helps farmers remain viable in the face of climate change, disease and infestation, and price fluctuations of the coffee market. Many farmers are planting other crops such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and medicinal herbs, while some tend beehives for pollen and others diversify their income beyond agricultural products. Read more here.


Women Coffee Producers

Women are central to the local coffee economies of Central America even though male heads of household traditionally make decisions about land management and farming practices. This research highlights women’s willingness to experiment with things like crop diversification, organic compost production and providing greater ecosystem services. Read more here.


Migration Mapping

The push-factors for out-migration are varied and complex. In this study, women were interviewed about who left their communities since the onset of coffee leaf rust. These maps illustrate where migrants went, and when they left.

Guatemala Migrations Map.jpg
Nicaragua Migrations Map.jpg