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We are celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March. This year’s theme is Balance for Better because balance drives a better world. We can all play a part in building a gender-balanced world.

Meet Mandu Thapa, Chairperson of the Coffee Cooperative Union, in Sindhupalchok Nepal working with Beautiful Coffee, a mission-led Fair Trade Enterprise. She talks about the challenges she faces and the successes she has had in organic coffee farming.

1. Tell us about the organization you work for and your role there.

I am the Chairperson of the Coffee Cooperative Union Ltd., Sindhupalchok. It is a district level union of ten primary coffee Cooperatives established and managed by smallholder coffee producing farmers.

It is my job to manage the coffee promotion activities in Sindhupalchok with support from different organizations including KOICA, Beautiful Coffee Korea and Beautiful Coffee Nepal. I also coordinate with the Government agencies such as the National Tea and Coffee Development Board.

2. Is your organisation a member of a network?

Yes, we are a member of the national level coffee cooperative network known as Central Coffee Cooperative Union. We are also a member of National level Nepal Coffee Producers’ Association, and I am the designated Secretary of Nepal Coffee Producers’ Association.

3. You have made a success of coffee farming - what are you most proud of?

I am proud of organizing small holder farmers into groups and cooperatives to produce organic coffee and market it at the international level in a fair way. I am known as Miss Coffee and am the only female Chairperson of a District Level Coffee Cooperative Union in Nepal.

4. What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success? How do you respond to this challenge?

Being a woman, I faced challenges from the family, society and the community, too. However, I did not lose my patience and kept on struggling. Ultimately, my hard work and successful activities convinced the family, society, and community that I am capable of running the cooperative.

5. Are farmers treated better through your relationship with Beautiful Coffee?

Yes, the Coffee Cooperative Union is an organic coffee bean supplier of Beautiful Coffee, a mission-led Fair Trade Enterprise whose main priority is to uplift the condition of growers in poor countries. Our work with Beautiful Coffee helped us to institutionalize coffee production, processing, and marketing through a coffee producers’ cooperative which introduced the ten principles of fair trade in the coffee value chain. This has many advantages, for example, the cooperative is owned by the farmers including the processing facilities and payments are made to farmers when harvested coffee is delivered to the village processing unit.

6. As a woman, have you overcome any obstacles in leading your cooperative?

Yes, there were obstacles. Initially, people questioned my capacity. I had to work hard and implement project activities successfully in a team spirit to prove that being a woman I know what I am doing and can be an effective and efficient leader. I had to find enough time for office management and coordination as well as to collaborate with different coffee-related stakeholders.

7. You have embraced organic farming - why has this been key to your success?

There is consumer demand for organic coffee both on the domestic market and abroad. Most coffee farmers have converted their coffee farm as well as the whole upland area into organic. I have organized about 4oo farmers in an internal control system for grower group certification and export organic coffee to South Korea and Australia.

8. You are an exceptional woman leader, what is your message to other women who would like to follow your example?

You need to take time, dedication and sacrifice in the area you are involved in. You will face problems initially but you can overcome them and be successful.

Our friends at the World Fair Trade Organization are highlighting what Balance for Better means with the launch of two reports showcasing the role women play in leading Fair Trade Enterprises. On Women’s Day, WFTO releases the findings of the latest gender study including reports, blogs and visual material about the empowerment that Fair Trade Enterprises bring to women around the world!

Stay tuned for WFTO's launch

In the previous blog posts, you’ll find personal stories from farmers and updates from organic projects working on the ground to build change. Check them out!