A Conversation with Pachamama President Merling Preza | The Role of Women in Coffee

A Conversation with Pachamama President Merling Preza | The Role of Women in Coffee

Continuing our conversation through Women's History Month on the role of women in the cooperative, we sat down with Pachamama President, Merling Preza, to discuss the importance of women's work on and off the coffee fields.

Merling is not only the President of Pachamama Coffee, but also the General Manager of PRODECOOP in Nicaragua. PRODECOOP is a leader in the industry for the efforts to build gender equity and inclusion throughout the cooperative. This conversation was able to take place during Pachamama's annual Board of Directors meeting that was hosted at the Sacramento, CA Headquarters in March 2022.

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Translated and edited for clarity by Rosa Angelica Sarabia.

English translation: 

Merling Preza proudly displays Nicaragua Coffee

In our cooperative, women’s participation has been a very important challenge. Not only in the supply chain laborum, but making sure they participate in processes and the decision making process. We have worked with them for positions of leadership.

By simply being a woman, we have to administer our resources in the best way possible. We work in our coffee fields for our family and our children. This is also connected to programs [in PRODECOOP] like Study with Coffee, because it is important that our children get an education, and learn how to read. For that, we also have a program Reading with Coffee is Delicious. We created these programs amongst women because we know this is a necessity.

When a women receives her payment, she is thinking of bettering the quality of life for her family, to better her coffee field, to ensure her child goes to school, that her child is healthy, that her child has better living conditions at home. 

Women play a lot of roles: they are a coffee producer, a mom, a nurse, a cooperative leader. Women are cooperative members as well as leaders in their cooperatives. They are the president, secretary, treasurer in the base cooperatives, and participate in the general activities of the cooperative.

For us women, it has always been a challenge to play all these roles. Even if we have mom and dad, mom is always the one always on the lookout to ensure her child goes to school, that her child finishes their homework, if they were to get sick, she is the one who takes care of him at night. We play all these roles, and at the same time we are businesswomen, because a small scale producer is a businesswomen in her coffee field. She runs her coffee field in the best way possible for it to generate the most profit for her family. I believe that women help better the living conditions of her family.  

Merling Preza, talking with coffee leaders

When we began, it was just a few of us women in leadership roles at a national level, at continental level, and at a global level. 

I am a single mom. I have four children and seven grandchildren at the moment. I taught my children the principles and values for which we work towards. It is more than a job, being a mother is not the only one, the mother is the one who provides. I believe that helped me to move forward. I have experienced a lot of challenges. Us, as women are the ones who give birth and raise our kids. I was already working in the cooperative when I had my youngest daughter. My daughter was small, and I still had to sell coffee. And I did it.

I believe that we women can do it. Being pregnant is not a sickness. We continue working. I earned the respect of my coworkers, for my hard work in the cooperative in defense of small scale producers; first in my cooperative PRODECOOP, then in Nicaragua, and now at a global scale. I began to represent small scale producers everywhere. 

I always speak of a way of life for small scale producers, for their quality of life. For them and their families, we work toward economic, social and environmental sustainability.

My voice has been what has taken me to different places:

  • Board of directors OCIA International
  • Board of directors at local organizations
  • Board of directors, Fairtrade Foundation
  • Board of directors, Fairtrade International
  • Board of directors FLOCERT 
  • Board of directors Pachamama 
  • Sin Fronteras Cooperative (https://sinfront.com/community_tourism.html)

I always carry the same message, of how we can better the living conditions for our small scale producers in our countries. It is a constant message, it is my way of life. I believe it is this message that has opened doors for me, a way that our male coworkers have learned to respect us as women and as leaders, which I know is a challenge in our country. Today, I know there are many more of us women, working little by little, showing that Yes We Can.

Merling Preza talking with a man

Women are leading in the production and commercialization of coffee in our country. We now see women focused workshops at the Specialty Coffee Association’s Conferences, where we see women coffee producers, women cooperative leaders, and women in the industry overall. Every time we acquire more space, and create space. Spaces that we need to retain and grow as we move forward, to ensure that women are present. And doing that takes great tenacity, and I believe, as women, we have plenty of it. 

Original Spanish Words:

En nuestra cooperativa ha sido un reto muy importante la participación de la mujer, no solo en los labores de la cadena, sino que también en los procesos de toma de decisiones, hemos trabajado políticas de liderazgo, tratamos de que las mujeres participen de manera más efectiva. 

Simplemente por ser mujer, nosotras administramos nuestros recursos de mejor manera, trabajamos nuestra finca en función de nuestra familia, y de nuestros hijos. Eso también va ligado a otros programas como estudiar con el café, porque es importante que nuestros hijos estudien, que aprendan a leer, tenemos un programa que es “Rico leer con el care” y poderlo construir entre mujeres, muchas cosas que sabemos que es una necesidad.

Cuando la mujer recibe premios, prima, está pensando en mejorar la calidad de vida de la familia, trabajar la parcela, que su hijo vaya a la escuela, que su hijo tenga salud, que tenga mejores condiciones en su casa. 

Y la mujer tiene muchos roles, juega el rol de productora, de mamá, de enfermera, de líder cooperativista, las mujeres son miembros, líderes de las organizaciones cooperativas de base, son presidentas, secretarias, tesoreras, y ayudan a administrar su cooperativa de base. Administran su finca, administran su cooperativa de base, y participan en las actividades generales de la cooperativa. 

Para nosotros las mujeres siempre es un reto mayor porque jugamos otros roles, porque si bien tenemos mamá y papá, pero mamá siempre está pendiente de que vaya el hijo al colegio, que estén sus cuadernos bien, que si se enferma lo cuida durante la noche al niño. Jugamos todos esos roles pero también somos capaces de ser empresarias, porque la pequeña productora es empresaria en su finca. Y maneja su finca de manera que le pueda generar ingresos. Yo creo que eso nos ha ayudado a mejorar las condiciones de vida en su familia. 

Cuando empezamos, habíamos muy pocas mujeres en puestos de liderazgo a nivel país, a nivel de latinoamérica y a nivel mundial. 

Yo soy madre soltera, tengo cuatro hijos, y siete nietos actualmente, pero creo que también enseñé a mis hijos los principios y valores por los cuales trabajamos. Es más que un trabajo, no es que la mama es un trabajo nada más, si no que es la mama que aporta. Creo que eso me ayudó a seguir adelante con todo esto. Han habido retos fuertes, nosotras las mujeres parimos, yo parí a mi hija menor, estando en la cooperativa y tenía que vender café. Íbamos a la par en que la bebe estaba chiquita y teníamos que vender café, pero lo logré. 

Creo que nosotras lo podemos lograr. Estar embarazadas no es una enfermedad. Seguimos adelante. Me gane el respeto de las compañeras y compañeros por trabajar duro para la cooperativa por trabajar duro en defensa de los intereses de los pequeños productores; primero en mi cooperativa, PRODECOOP, de Nicaragua, y del mundo, entonces empeze a representar a los pequeños productores en cualquier lugar. Entonces yo hablo siempre del modo de vida de los pequeños productores, la calidad de vida del pequeño productor, que por ellos trabajamos por la sostenibilidad económica, social y ambiental de las familias de pequeños productores.

Siempre con el mismo mensaje, cómo mejoramos las condiciones de vida de nuestros pequeños productores en nuestros países. Es un mensaje constante, es un modo de vida para mi, y yo creo que es eso lo que me ha abierto las puertas, y que los compañeros aprendan a respetarnos como mujeres y líderes. Creo que en nuestros países es un reto grande. Pero hoy dia siento que hay mucha mas mujeres tambien. Es trabajando poco a poco y demostrando que sí se puede. 

Las mujeres liderando la producción y la comercialización del café en el país. Vemos ahora los encuentros de mujeres en el SCA, donde hay mujeres productoras, mujeres líderes cooperativistas, y mujeres en la industria. Cada vez más vamos ganando espacio. Espacios que tenemos que seguir hacia delante, no perderlo, sino que cada vez más, ganar más espacio, que las mujeres estemos ahí, y yo creo que es de mucha tenacidad, que eso tenemos bastante nosotras las mujeres.


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