Like many industries, the coffee market tends to be a male-dominated business, while studies show that 70% of the work is done by women. We asked Ethiopia’s Sara Yirga, owner of YA Coffee Roasters and a participant in the Ethiopian branch of Women in Coffee, what motivates her and challenges her as a female coffee entrepreneur.
‘It is true that coffee is male-dominated in the sense that men make most of the business decisions and get most of the income. It is difficult to enter a sector in which the role of men is part of the system. But with determination and focus I can say I’ve come a long way in gaining recognition for YA Coffee. From the very start, my company hired 85% women. Many have come and gone, but still I have three amazing women working on the quality assurance of the coffee we produce.’
To what extent has this project increased your income?
‘This project has yet to make money, but I have learned so much and gained so much experience in the last four and half years. We have been investing in developing knowledge of coffee and the international coffee industry and expanding our network, for example, through the CBI programme. My husband’s monthly salary from his other job was our income for the last two years; that has enabled me to cover the cost of maintaining the business in a rented facility and paying salaries.’
To what extent do you experience difficulties in business related to the fact that you are a woman?
‘One of the difficulties of doing business as a woman here in Ethiopia is dealing with the mind-set of our society with regard to women. You see it at different levels. First, female education and upbringing are tuned to preparing us for employment rather than entrepreneurship. Second, we are not expected as women to be ambitious and aggressive in pursuing our dreams. Third, all of this raises many bureaucratic barriers, for example when we are dealing with business registration, customs, and, most importantly, access to finance. Accessing loans has been and still is the biggest challenge yet.’
What is your ambition with the Ethiopian branch of Women in Coffee?
‘We want to become a model group of women who can serve as examples to the many women out there struggling to make ends meet with their small coffee farms. This is the main reason why EWiC was established. Our services focus on skills, capacity building and quality assurance, so that our members can get premium prices for their coffees. As one of the leaders, one of my responsibilities is to come up with strategies for our members’ skills development. I get a lot of energy and motivation from EWiC’s recognition by major local and international stakeholders.’
In your view, what is the greatest challenge for the coming years when it comes to improving gender equality in the (Ethiopian) coffee business?
‘Bringing women to leadership in the coffee sector will remain one big challenge, locally and internationally. Apart from becoming a ‘woman-led global brand’, I want YA Coffee to take the lead in creating awareness and empowering women in coffee. Being involved in EWiC has strengthened my conviction that "Excellence is integrity while building a dream".’