Promoting Spaces for LGBTQI+ Inclusion in Agricultural Education and Coffee Sector Development
Higher education institutions are central actors in local development. In the Philippines, state universities and colleges (SUCs) support the country’s burgeoning coffee sector by providing responsive agricultural extension services and innovative research.
Since 2019, the Philippine Coffee Advancement and Farm Enterprise (PhilCAFE), a program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and implemented by ACDI/VOCA, has partnered with four SUCs to support sustained development in the coffee sector. Central Mindanao University, Cavite State University, Sultan Kudarat State University and Mt. Province State Polytechnic College have teamed up with PhilCAFE across diverse coffee-growing regions of the country. Together, they are strengthening the capacity of smallholder coffee producers and producer associations. This includes providing opportunities for young people to acquire the technical and professional skills needed to thrive in the coffee value chain.
Positive Youth Development in Higher Education
PhilCAFE has been working with faculty and administrators to apply the principles of Positive Youth Development to promote young people’s engagement in the coffee industry and broader agricultural sector. Their focus is ensuring students obtain the skills and competencies needed to thrive after graduation. However, they recognize that their mission extends beyond technical skill development; it is equally important to foster spaces of learning where all students, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ethnic identity or other social factors, can thrive.
Gender Inequality on Campus
Despite SUCs receiving funding for government-mandated Gender and Development (GAD) programs to address gender inequality, faculty and university employees highlighted to PhilCAFE that many students still faced gender-specific challenges. Sexual harassment and gender-based violence remain pervasive on campuses. PhilCAFE’s analysis revealed that students identifying as LGBTQI+ experienced targeted harassment and bullying. These forms of violence have negative impacts on students’ academic achievement and mental health.
Raising Awareness of LGBTQI+ and Gender Sensitivities
Based on PhilCAFE’s gender and social inclusion analysis, conducted from October 2020 to April 2021, the program facilitated a series of participatory workshops and trainings with GAD focal points, senior administrators and faculty members from two of PhilCAFE’s partner SUCs: Central Mindanao University and Sultan Kudarat State University. These sessions included hands-on learning activities and discussions that allowed attendees to reflect on how discrimination, inequality and gender norms manifest in their own lives. Through these workshops, participants began to shift their own attitudes; understand the importance of promoting safer, inclusive learning environments; and learn how to apply inclusive facilitation approaches in the classroom.
During the sessions, participants critically assessed their institutional and departmental-level GAD programs, identifying limitations in their existing “business as usual” programming. They prioritized actions administrators and faculty could take to collaboratively expand their GAD initiatives, particularly for LGBTQI+ students. Participants also identified how government funding could be maximized to support the development of more student support services, trainings for faculty on inclusive teaching practices, and more intentional awareness-raising activities for faculty and students on LGBTQ+ inclusion.
The onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted much of these efforts. However, during the lockdown period in the Philippines, faculty from Central Mindanao University proceeded with a series of virtual “coffee talks” focused on sensitizing the wider campus community to the targeted discrimination that LGBTQI+ students experience. The school also provided a supportive virtual space for LGBTQI+ students to gather and learn more about available support resources.
LGBTQI+ Inclusion in Rural Development
Globally, there is limited information about LGBTQI+ inclusion in agriculture and rural development. While there are notable examples of research and advocacy centered around the engagement of LGBTQI+ students in agriculture-focused higher education programs in the United States, concerted efforts are needed to gather evidence to establish policies and practices supporting sexual and gender minorities entering and remaining in agricultural careers. Such efforts must be accompanied by robust risk assessments to ensure that proposed initiatives will not inadvertently cause harm.
The Role of Higher Education in Global Development
PhilCAFE is continuing to work with SUCs to document the impacts of their revised GAD action plans and changes in faculty and institutional practice. The goal is for students who identify as LGBTQI+ to access learning in a safe and supportive educational environment, allowing them to one day enter careers in the agriculture sector and support their access to livelihoods and food security. By promoting LGBTQI+ inclusion in higher education, PhilCAFE is contributing to a more inclusive enabling environment, as faculty impart inclusive values to generations of students who will go forward to work in the agriculture sector and in agriculture research.
The pivotal role of higher education institutions in using innovative research to address the most pressing developmental challenges linked to agricultural development, food security and sustainability is without question. None of that would be possible without faculty and administrators working to address prevailing inequitable and discriminatory social norms and fostering spaces where all students can realize their potential to support a more inclusive, productive, profitable and resilient agricultural sector.