Celebrating Isabel Uriarte, a voice for female farmers in Peru
Take a moment, and think of a woman who has inspired you? Maybe this person is a mother, a sister, an aunt, or a friend. Maybe you met this person briefly at an event, or maybe they are someone you have known your whole life.
When we learned about Isabel Uriarte and the work she is doing to uplift women in the coffee industry, we knew that she would become an inspiration to us. Why? Because Isabel is known within her community, which is located in the rolling hills of Northeastern Peru, as a hero.
For more than twenty years, Isabel Uriarte has been working with farmers and rural communities, helping them strengthen their organizations, combat debt and poverty and empower women farmers in Peru. Today, female coffee producers make up 43 percent of the world’s coffee growers. Yet they often have no rights, make little or no income, experience terrible domestic and workplace abuse, and are forced further into poverty. However, Isabel has been a true champion for rural farmers, and has been a driving force behind changing this troubling reality for many women in Peru.
Isabel is a founder and one of the 1,458 members of the CECANOR cooperative. She was part of the first organization to export organic certified coffee in the Peruvian Northeast, and in 2000 she sought Fair Trade certification for CECANOR. Since then producers have never received a price below $100-$137 per 100 lbs. Additionally, after earning Fair Trade certification, the cooperative gained access to international markets, better wages and the protections of the Fair Trade standards. By selling directly to markets, Isabel and other farmers make more income which keeps them from falling into a cycle of poverty and debt.
Not only has the cooperative focused heavily on community development and environmental sustainability, they are the first group to participate in the Café Femenino program. Isabel is a leader of Café Femenino, an all-female coffee growing group, which runs programs that aim to empower women coffee farmers in the community, and supports them in growing and selling their coffee separately from men. This type of program is the first of its kind and serves as an example and a beacon of hope for female coffee growers in Peru and the world. Isabel also says that coffee grown by women tastes better!
Through Isabel’s leadership, CECANOR has developed health, education, and technical assistance projects that benefit female farmers and their families. Some of these projects include introducing new farming techniques to better train farmers, providing health screenings for community members and running sex-education campaigns in rural schools, and improving the productivity of credit programs for her community. Isabel has also dedicated a portion of her time to teaching women and their families about proper nutrition, health, and safety.
All of the programs mentioned above were made possible through the Community Development Funds that CECANOR earned from every sale of their Fair Trade Certified coffee. This money is put directly into a worker controlled bank account that the farmers and farmworkers vote on for how best to invest the money into community improvement projects.
Through her hard work and dedication Isabel has changed the lives of hundreds of women for the better. The skills she has taught them, from farming to health education, will be passed down to their children and grandchildren for generations to come. And, although this type of service is truly monumental, Isabel has also given the women and families of her community something even better. She has shown them the power that a single individual possesses, and how much change can occur when that single individual channels their power into affecting positive change for those around them.