Kelly Austin is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lehigh. She is in Bududa, Uganda this summer with a group of students pursuing her research in community health. You can see her previous posts here.
One of the key research projects I am working on here is looking at the hidden costs of coffee cultivation in Bududa. In this remote region, coffee is the only product that links Bududa to the international market. So far, I’ve interviewed over 20 coffee farmers, traders, and community leaders. For all but 2 of the interviews, I used Dezz’s assistance to translate and help co-conduct the interview. Sometimes, we walk out into the community and meet the farmers at their coffee garden. They are always very proud to show me their plants. Other times, Dezz organizes the interviews so that the participants come to the Zaale house to be interviewed. This has been the case with all the women I have interviewed, because if I had met them on their property, their husbands would have overseen the interview and I suspect I would have not gotten honest answers.
The gender inequalities with coffee are glaring. One of the key questions I ask is if they think that coffee growing benefits men and women equally in the community. All of the male growers I have interviewed contend that coffee benefits themselves and their wife (or wives) equally. They say they share all the money they get from selling the coffee with their wife or wives, and they use the money together to do things like pay for school fees for the kids, or buy clothes and other needed household items. However, when I asked the women and two community leaders this question, they give me a very different response. The women say that it is them who plant the coffee, maintain and prune the plants, bring
water from the river to coffee gardens that are high in the hills, spend hours and hours harvesting the coffee, and carry the dried coffee beans to the trader; then the men send them home with the empty containers. They never touch the money received from selling the coffee, or even know how much money is made. Many of them contend that their husbands use the money for drinking, feasting, and even to have sex with other women. They are left with nothing – but a backache, or worse. During one interview, one women pointed to her face, displaying a significant scar from below her eye across her cheek. She says, “This is what my husband did to me when I quarreled with him about the money from coffee.”