Meet Fatima Ismael, Manager of SOPPEXCCA – Nicaragua
This month, we’re expanding our Regenerative Organic Certified repertoire to Jinotega, Nicaragua with a coffee from our new partner, SOPPEXCCA. This cooperative union fosters the democratic participation of its producer-members towards a mission that’s tied to the UN Millennium Development Goals. SOPPEXCCA’s programs enhance the quality of life and culture of farming communities through professional training and education surrounding environmental sustainability, gender equity, and the arts.
As we launch our ROC Nicaragua SOPPEXCCA, we want to celebrate the woman behind SOPPEXCCA, Fatima Ismael. As General Manager, Fatima is much more than an administrator; she’s an inspiration for perseverance in pursuit of gender equity, community development, and environmental sustainability. Not only has Fatima won over the farmers of SOPPEXCCA through decades of dogged performance, but she earned her success and respect through a lifetime of working in Nicaragua’s patriarchal institutions.
Fatima grew up following the footsteps of her four brothers. Fighting his country’s machismo culture, Fatima’s father instilled in her the belief that she was just as strong and capable as her brothers.
“Because I grew up in an environment where there was so much male presence, it made me a little stronger,” Fatima told Jeff during his recent visit to Jinotega.
Fatima went to university, which was rare for women at the time. As part of her academic program, she stayed in rural communities to teach children to read and write. While living with these families, many of whom were poor farmers, she witnessed their struggle to survive off of their crops. This prompted her to study agronomy in 1981.
“At this time, studying agronomy, for a woman, was breaking a lot of barriers,” she said. “A career related to agriculture was almost 99% male.”
Being the 1% was difficult at first, but after a while, she proved herself to her colleagues. After graduating, she worked mainly with small coffee coops.
“In the world of coffee, it was totally masculine too,” she said.
Fatima persevered through the deep-rooted stigma that prevented most women from working in coffee and became the manager of SOPPEXCCA in 1997. There, she faced not only gender barriers but barriers to the organization’s success; SOPPEXCCA was in financial ruin. She inherited an organization in huge debt and lacking the bare essentials of desks and offices.
“You can break any barrier with work, efficiency, transparency and with a good process,” Fatima said. She did just that.
Her coworkers and producer-members applaud her for leading them out of debt and into growth, both financially and in SOPPEXCCA’s values. Fatima can be largely credited for SOPPEXCCA’s success in increasing coffee production, expanding the practice of shaded coffee farms, fair trade certification, and growing the organization from 4 coops when she joined to over 16 today. After witnessing chemical pesticides and fertilizers poisoning farm workers and their families, Fatima led the coops through the intimidating transition into organic farming and certification. She proved that women can be powerful forces in the coffee industry, and continues to help women in SOPPEXCCA acquire the skills to become coffee producers, quality cuppers, business managers, baristas, and professionals throughout the value chain.
Fatima is close to retirement, but her community at SOPPEXCCA begs her to keep going. When that day comes, the ripple effects of her perseverance and empowerment will continue to push SOPPEXCCA and the greater coffee community toward a more just and sustainable industry.
Barista & Blogger