Being a woman, a farmer, a leader

Being a woman, a farmer, a leader


Compared to the start of VECO's coffee programme in Flores, Indonesia, three years ago, we see that the opinion of women is much more valued and taken into account. Marselina Walu, also known as Mama Lina, is one of them. She pushes back against the stereotypical images of farming that, in Indonesia, are usually dominated by men. Mama Lina is not only a woman who farms, but also a leader, now chairing a coffee cooperative in Bajawa, on the island of Flores.

Becoming a farmer is usually not the dream of most Indonesians. Many Indonesian farmers would tell you that they farm not because they chose to, but because they had to. It is even more unusual for a woman to manage her own farm. Farming in Indonesia is a men’s world and although women are traditionally involved, they are given specific and limited roles of being mostly helpers of their husbands. Mama Lina didn’t plan to be a farmer, either. But once she got into it, she found not only her true passion but also her natural talent for leadership.

Becoming a trusted person and farmer leader

The region of Bajawa is one of only six matriarchal societies in the world, which means that custom and kinship system is regulated through a female line. Based on that custom, Mama Lina inherited a plot of land and a plantation from her parents. So together with her friends who also owned lands in the area, Mama Lina began farming coffee.

In 2013 one of the partner organisations of VECO, started supporting coffee farmers in Mama Lina’s region. For three months, Mama Lina and her friends learned how to cultivate coffee plants in the best way. As well as how to process it according to the standards required for export purposes. Their plantations began to be properly tended and maintained.

She became the leader of a newly established coffee cooperative, called Kagho Masa. One year later, coffee samples were sent to the capital Jakarta to participate in a National Auction. The samples successfully passed as one of the coffees qualified for the auction. Mama Lina attended the event and cleverly used the opportunity for networking and lobbying. As a result, Bajawa coffee was sold at a price of 4,5 USdollar per kg, which is a price that is only paid for specialty coffees .

The cooperative of Mama Lina now produces specialty coffee that is becoming well recognized among coffee lovers in Jakarta, Java, Sumatra and Bali, as it has begun to grab the attention of café owners in big cities that now regularly place coffee orders with the cooperative. Kagho Masa is currently one of the cooperatives supplying coffee in a large quantity to be jointly marketed locally and internationally.

Coffee farming isn’t a side job. And it’s not an easy job. But I’m proud to be a farmer. And a Q-Grader!

Marselina Walu

Becoming an expert and inspiring other women

At the age of barely 37 years old, this woman never gives up despite facing challenges from several members of the cooperative who are mostly men and some people who tend to underestimate her. She continues to fight confidently for the welfare of all members of the cooperative and constantly strive to empower the women in her village so that they could be taken seriously. Today, there are five female cadres in Kagho Masa Cooperative besides Mama Lina. Other cooperatives and local government offices in neighboring regions have even begun to require their expertise. And their coffee plantations are often used as learning orchards.

Behind the scenes, however, Mama Lina is a single parent to her only son. But her extraordinary determination and endeavor have made her the only woman so far that ever leads a primary cooperative in the area. People count on her ability. Nevertheless, Mama Lina never stops learning. She is always eager to attend trainings, join study visits and participate in various meetings. In addition, Mama Lina is now a qualified Q Grader, which is a qualification to conduct objective assessments and score the quality of coffee. She was the first farmer to obtain this certificate!

A woman, a farmer, and a leader. Mama Lina will continue to inspire women to succeed in their chosen fields and elevate women everywhere to an equal stage as men.

And what about the other women in the coffee sector on the island Flores?

Compared to the start of VECO's coffee programme in Flores three years ago, we see that the opinion of women is much more valued and taken into account, and that they have a high participation in decision making.

It all starts with involving women at all levels, in trainings and management. VECO staff explicitly supported women to join the “Training of Trainers”, which turns farmer leaders into facilitators and experts on certain issues (like pruning or grafting coffee trees), so that they can teach other group leaders. In some cooperatives almost half of the staff that provides training and technical assistance on Good Agricultural Practices to other farmers, are women.

Secondly, women are trained and supported to take up specific tasks. Eg. within the coffee processing units, more and more women are responsible for bookkeeping or appointed as treasurer or even as manager of the unit. In one of the coffee farmer organisations supported by VECO on Flores, 19 processing units out of 31 are led by women.

Moreover, women get a chance to participate in coffee auctions and exhibitions at the national and international levels, so that they learn more about the details of the coffee market, and expand their professional network.

[By: Fransisca Rengo, VECO Indonesia's Field Officer for Coffee on Flores]