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Coffee Rust Part 1: La Roya de La FEM

La Fundación Entre Mujeres

and the Coffee Rust Fungus

Women from La FEM. Photo credit Chelsea Bay Dennis, Stone Hut Studios

Women from La FEM.
Photo credit Chelsea Bay Dennis, Stone Hut Studios

Feminism in Action: La Fundación Entre Mujeres

Established in 1996, La Fundación Entre Mujeres (La FEM) is an all women’s NGO in the mountains of northern Nicaragua. Originally founded to challenge the deeply rooted model of male-dominated rural development in Nicaragua, La FEM acts as the umbrella organization for six smaller coffee cooperatives which are collectively made of 260 producers (all women) known as Las Diosas (The Goddesses).

Through the development and support of a diversified array of projects, La FEM advocates for ideological, economic and political empowerment of rural women. Consistently in the forefront of their objectives, La FEM is dedicated to helping women become autonomous through land ownership. On top of help with the logistics of obtaining land, La FEM provides long-term support to women by providing resources and access to agricultural education, credit, seeds, infrastructure, alternative technologies, and markets.

Projects Supported by Fundación Entre Mujeres

  • The fight against violence by creating community networks of rural defenders
  • Primary and secondary educational programs with a focus on literacy and gender equality
  • Education in alternative careers connected to sustainable development
  • The promotion of sexual and reproductive rights and access to health services for women
  • Developing strategies of economic empowerment, prioritizing food sovereignty with utilization of diversified and organic production
Young girl learning about coffee through La FEM programming. Photo credit Chelsea Bay Dennis, Stone Hut Studios

La FEM educates the community through diverse programming.
Photo credit Chelsea Bay Dennis, Stone Hut Studios

With a focus on improving organic production, members of Las Diosas have access to trainings on different topics relating to organic coffee production. They also have access (at a centralized location) to a coffee roaster, a large nursery of healthy, organic plants, and organic fertilizers made with recycled materials from nearby farms. Relying heavily on the income from producing coffee, La FEM is invested in assuring that they are educated on the entire production chain and sell their products both locally and internationally under the “Las Diosas” label.

The dedication of La FEM to their community was proven in 2011 when a devastating landslide ravaged the homes and crops of twenty La FEM members and their families. In response to the disaster, La FEM helped to secure both housing and land for the affected women who are working hard to produce and harvest food for themselves and their families (read more here).  Though the support of La FEM has helped the community on the road to recovery, another disaster has slowly encroached onto their land and crops. Due to heavy rains and moisture, coffee rust fungus, or La Roya as they call it in Spanish, quickly threatened to cut the women’s coffee crop  (and subsequently their income) by at least half, and this is not a phenomena isolated to Nicaragua.

An Escalating Fungal Blight

With an estimated 2.25 billion cups consumed per day, coffee is the most important agricultural product in international trade and the world’s second most traded commodity- second, of course, only to oil. This means that Coffee Rusts (Hemileia vastatrix and it’s relatives), found on every coffee-producing continent and affecting over 27 varieties of coffee, are arguably some of the most devastating blights for the global economy today.


World distribution of coffee rust

Infections of  coffee rusts are not new to coffee producers. However, due to increased human travel (as we are important modes of transportation for spores), heavier rain falls brought on my climate change, and rapid genetic mutations, the fungal blights are hitting crops harder and with a stronger immunity than ever before. “When rust struck Colombia in 2008, it spread from farm to farm, cutting the country’s coffee output from 12 million bags to 7 million in a single year ” (National Geographic).

First appearing on just the lower leaves on the coffee plant as small, yellow spots, the fungus grows in diameter, turning to rust in color, and progresses rapidly up the plant spreading to other leaves. The infection then causes the coffee leaves to drop prematurely in the season. With the absence of leaves, the coffee plants are unable to photosynthesize and are left severely deprived of the building blocks of life.

la fem and coffee rust

An elder from the la FEM community stands in her field of leafless coffee plants caused by an infection of la roya.

With such a widespread distribution of infection and inescapable damages from infections, there are many questions that are left for the farmers, producers and consumers of coffee to answer.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Coffee Rust series where we will explore the science behind the fungus and the various methods people are utilizing to try and manage the blight.


To Learn More about La FEM

The video clip about La FEM originally came from the highly recommended documentary, Connected by Coffee.
Much of the introduction about La FEM came from the Just Coffee Cooperative in Madison, WI.

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