La Morena | Gender Equality in Coffee

Genuine Origin
5 min readOct 30, 2020
Volcafe Way presentation for La Morena farmers in Huehuetenango, Guatemala

It was late in the 2016 season when Volcafe Guatemala developed the idea for a new micro-lot consisting of coffees from women coffee farmers. The team created a contest and called on women coffee producers from all over Guatemala to send in samples for a new micro-lot concept. Maria Renee Morales, Assistant General Manager at Volcafe Guatemala, and her team cupped the samples and selected three winners. The winning lots amounted to 32 boxes of green coffee (about 2000 lbs)and became the first La Morena micro-lot to be sold through the Genuine Origin website.

Roasters were intrigued by the story and quality of the La Morena micro-lot; The name, La Morena refers to azucar morena — brown sugar, in Spanish — the predominant flavor in the coffee. The first lot sold out quickly and its success brought more business to the producers immediately. “We didn’t realize that La Morena would become a platform for producers to showcase their coffee,” says Maria Renee. “After this, all three farmers were contacted and sold their coffee directly to roasters!”

Who Wants to Deal With Women? We do!

Between 20% and 30% of coffee farms are female-operated and up to 70% of labor in coffee production is provided by women, depending on the region. However, women have less access to resources such as land, credit and information than their male counterparts. This results in a measurable gender gap in economic outcomes, including yields, productivity and farm income.

In Guatemala, coffee has long been a male-dominated industry and gender equality remains a challenge. It is unfortunately very difficult for women in Guatemala to compete and thrive in the coffee world. La Morena was created to level the playing field and showcase the work of women farmers across Guatemala.

“Most [women producers] have a tragic story. They were just thrown into the coffee business because of the death of their husband or their father. And suddenly they have to decide: Are you going to keep the farm or sell it? It’s very brave of them to keep running it,” says Maria Renee.

When asked about her own role, Maria Renee pauses, then answers matter-of-factly: “…Nobody wants to deal with women. They have a concept about women producers, and I need that to change…I just want them to have access to Volcafe Way,” she says sincerely.

“We’re going to give them what they need: knowledge. So the next time the guy with the fertilizer comes, they can say, ‘No, that price is too high. I know what it should cost.’ Or, they say, ‘I know this worker has the ability to prune one line of coffee, but he’s pruning only two plants per day,’” she says. “Now they know — now they have the knowledge!”

Dalia Carlota, owner of Finca Los Pinos, 2020 La Morena farmer with La Morena Bracelet

Volcafe Way — Huehuetenango — La Morena

Volcafe Guatemala wanted to continue the La Morena project, but wanted to make it better. They wanted to build something special. In the second iteration Volcafe Guatemala decided that La Morena would be reserved for Volcafe Way farmers in Huehuetenango. The reasons: with Volcafe Way we give ongoing technical assistance to the participating farmers; we had many technicians servicing Huehuetenango; and Huehuetenango enjoys ideal growing conditions. Huehuetenango also is Guatemala’s highest and driest non-volcanic regions, making it one of the best regions in which to grow coffee. The entire region is fundamentally connected to the success of the coffee industry and exports.

Yuris Herrera, owner of Finca El Rio, 2020 La Morena farmer with La Morena bracelet

With the La Morena farmers participating in the Volcafe Way program, we were able to help the farmers become profitable and produce high quality coffees. Since they joined the program, the women who have participated in the La Morena project have increased the quality of their coffee, increased their yields, and, as a consequence, started earning more. By teaching the producers best practices in farming and helping them understand how to become profitable, their farms have started to yield excellent coffee and their businesses are viable.

Data from Volcafe Way show great progress for La Morena farmers. Since 2016, their farm’s administrative costs have been cut in half and productivity is way up. The farmers went from 9.20 bags per hectare in 2016 to 14.10 bags per hectare in 2020.

Gender Equality Beyond Coffee

Year after year, La Morena grew. In 2018 La Morena sold 318 boxes and 2019 La Morena swelled to a full container load (about 41,000 lbs)! “We started thinking: roasters can’t wait for the next crop of La Morena,” says Maria Renee. “What about all the other women in [Guatemala] that face challenges every day? What about helping them through La Morena coffee?”

Volcafe Guatemala turned to Wakami Guatemala, a local foundation dedicated to the empowerment of women through the creation of small business models that contribute to the sale of Guatemalan handcrafted products. By providing women artisans with skills training and income opportunities, they are able to help break the cycle of poverty and transform it into cycles of prosperity.

Floridalma Cifuentes, Finca El Matasano, 2020 La Morena farmer with La Morena Bracelet

Together Maria Renee and Wakami Guatemala designed an official La Morena bracelet. And instead of donating money to a women’s charity, they hired women artisans to produce 700 hundred La Morena bracelets — each costing $10 a piece — which helped to kick start their businesses. The bracelets feature an embossed metal La Morena logo are adorned with red, yellow, green and brown bands to signify the journey from cherry to roasted coffee. It can also be worn as a necklace

Every roaster who buys a box of La Morena 2012 will receive a La Morena bracelet to commemorate their involvement in advancing gender equality in coffee production.

La Morena Huehuetenango Women Producers Micro-lot

  • FLAVOR: Milk Chocolate, Nougat, Red Fruit, Almond, Black Cherry
  • BODY: Medium
  • ACIDITY: Medium
  • PROCESS: Washed
  • CUP SCORE: 86.25


Copyright Genuine Origin 2021 — Special thanks to Maria Renee Morales, Assistant General Manager at Volcafe Guatemala.

Find out more about our Guatemalan coffee collection on our website —



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