How coffee and sewing machines are making a difference to women coffee farmers’ lives in Uganda

uganda coffee project SWEEP
Life-changing coffee: the programme helping women become financially more stable and self-sufficient Credit: Jonathan Gregson

A partnership between Taylors of Harrogate and a Ugandan coffee community, a limited-edition coffee and a lot of sewing machines could prove to be a game-changer

The life of a Ugandan female coffee farmer can be tough. “When I was younger we worked from morning to evening to get something so that we could buy a little food for survival and we did this again and again,” says Esther Teddy Cherotich, 30. 

Coffee farming is labour intensive and while women tend to play a key part in the planting, harvesting and processing, they often have little access to land ownership, credit and training. Women therefore tend to have limited control over the income generated from coffee sales. In Esther’s community though, things are beginning to change.

SWEEP success story: Esther Chemutai is one of hundreds of women benefiting from the scheme Credit: Jonathan Gregson

Esther was 16 when she decided to get married in the hope of escaping the poverty at home. But her life as a smallholder coffee farmer’s wife was no holiday. It meant helping with every aspect of coffee production, while also managing the household, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their children. “My children are in government school,” she says, “but when I have no money they have to stay home.”

In the past few months, things have changed for Esther. She is now one of hundreds of women benefiting from the Sipi Falls Coffee Women Economic Empowerment Project (SWEEP), funded by Taylors of Harrogate and run by Kawacom.

Training in financial literacy and business management, as well as practical tailoring skills, can make a real difference in the lives of women farmers

Taylors’ new limited-edition Ugandan single-origin coffee, Ingana, was created to shine a light on the extraordinary work women coffee farmers do every day and the difference a project like SWEEP can make to their lives. The idea is to help women coffee farmers become financially more self-sufficient by teaching them tailoring so they can earn additional income by selling their hand-made clothes, as well as gaining training in financial literacy and gender equality.

“When I heard of the SWEEP programme I was very happy,” says Esther. “Since I’ve started, I’m hoping for a better life for my family. We’ve learned how to make skirts and shorts and even a dress. I enjoy it so much.”

Dr Krisztina Szalai, sustainable sourcing manager for Taylors, co-created the programme in partnership with one of Taylors’ strategic coffee suppliers, Kawacom, and a profoundly inspiring local coffee farmer and women’s group leader Oliver (pronounced Olivia) Kishero. “Oliver educated herself to become a successful coffee farmer and has been leading a women’s group in the local region for years,” says Krisztina. Her group provides a space for local women to support each other, share knowledge and learn new skills.

Oliver Kishero: provides a space for local women to support each other, share knowledge and learn new skills Credit: Jonathan Gregson

“Oliver was telling us how nice it would be to get a sewing machine for her women’s group and to teach the women how to sew,” says Krisztina. “We’ve been able to accelerate that vision to become a reality.”

Six months on, the SWEEP project is in full flow, delivering training on tailoring, financial literacy and business management skills to 150 women’s groups across the country, most of which have between 10 and 30 members each.

“One of the main aims of the programme is to help women become financially more stable and self-sufficient,” explains Krisztina. “As coffee is a seasonal crop, farmers tend to only get paid for coffee once a year. Budgeting an annual income from a cash crop without reliable additional income source can be challenging. Training in financial literacy and business management, as well as practical tailoring skills, can make a real difference in the lives of women farmers.

“We don’t expect to change things overnight, neither do we think that this project can solve all the challenges these women face in their lives. But giving women in rural Uganda some simple tools like a sewing machine and access to training can make a real difference. Our hope with this project is that by empowering these women to better their own lives, we make a positive difference in the well-being of the entire community.”

Empowering women in Uganda

This feature, brought to you by Taylors of Harrogate and Telegraph Spark, is about the female empowerment projects in Uganda highlighted by limited-edition Ingana coffee.

Ingana has citrus, caramel and tropical fruit flavour notes derived from high-quality arabica beans grown on the slopes of Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda. Ingana means ‘Love’ in the local Lugisu dialect.

Ingana is on sale until September for £3.79.