Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Resource Conservation (International Conservation and Development)

Department or School/College

W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Dr. Stephen Siebert

Commitee Members

Dr. Jill Belsky, Dr. Sarah Halvorson


coffee, certification, women, empowerment, Costa Rica


University of Montana


The market for certified coffee is rapidly expanding and influencing the environmental, economic, and social conditions of global coffee production. Overarching goals of coffee certification schemes, such as fair trade, include encouraging sustainable production practices and promoting equitable trade relations that enhance economic stability and quality of life for producers. Women play a significant role in the coffee industry; yet, they typically have little control over resources and harvest proceeds and limited participation in decision-making processes. Although some certification schemes, namely Fairtrade International, include gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives, knowledge and understanding of how certifications can create pathways to women’s empowerment remain limited. To address this gap in knowledge, this research consists of a case study comparing two coffee organizations in Costa Rica: CoopeAgri, a mixed-gender fair trade-certified cooperative, and ASOMOBI, an all-women’s non-fair trade-certified association. Qualitative methods were employed to obtain in-depth data exploring women’s experiences in the Costa Rican coffee industry and their perspectives on certification schemes and empowerment. Data was analyzed using Jo Rowlands’ (1995) framework conceptualizing empowerment as a result of cultivating forms of “positive power.” Results suggest that while certification schemes minimally contribute to some components of empowerment, primarily through increased incomes and access to resources in organizations, economic and social factors (e.g. low consumer demand for certified coffee, persistence of traditional gender roles) limit certifications’ capacity to create pathways to empowerment. This study also explores how the scale and structure (i.e. women-only versus mixed-gender) of local organizations influence their ability to facilitate women’s empowerment. Results indicate that smaller-scale, women-only settings may be more effective for creating pathways to empowerment for women in the Costa Rican coffee industry. Results of this preliminary study provide a base upon which future research examining certification schemes and women’s empowerment can be built.



© Copyright 2017 Laura N. Stein