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Mainstreaming sustainability

In 2013 Solidaridad focused on mainstreaming sustainability in the tea sector by implementing the Teh Lestari and Trustea codes in Indonesia and India. In China, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malawi and Argentina, over 12,000 smallholders were supported with access to inputs and adopting certified sustainable practices.

Strengthening farmer organisations, good agricultural practices and certification can provide the solution. Training producers in sustainable farming techniques can benefit farming families as well as the environment.

Programme setting

Smallholders - now the main global tea producers - are critical suppliers to tea packers. However, lack of access to technical know-how and inputs and declining yields, coupled with low global tea prices, often result in poor quality tea, inadequate returns, poor working conditions and low wages for labourers. By building supply chain partnerships involving producers, traders, brands, retailers and governments, Solidaridad is supporting technology transfer, organisational development and making sure that smallholders get access to services and inputs.


Solidaridad is partnering with a range of companies to help them source sustainably from smallholders in East and Southern Africa, South America, China, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia. Solidaridad helped develop the draft Trustea code, audit protocol and implementation guides, and hosted farm support centres in the field. Four large teaproducing groups will soon be verified under the Trustea draft code, thus sustainably transforming 4.5 million kilos of tea production.
In Sri Lanka, support was provided to 2640 workers and 187 smallholders were trained in internal control systems to facilitate Utz certification. In Indonesia, together with Business Watch, Solidaridad continued its support for 12,000 tea smallholders under the Teh Lestari sustainability standard. In Kenya, Solidaridad supported 7200 smallholders attached to five Kenyan Tea Development Authority (KTDA) tea factories with climate change adaptation and mitigation.
In Malawi, 500 lead farmers were trained in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Solidaridad partnered with the East Africa Tea Trade Association (EATTA) and developed a tea production curriculum and training materials, which were used for capacity building. Sixteen master trainers were equipped with the knowledge, skills and tools needed to train other field staff, farmers and production staff.
In Argentina, 1750 hectares were brought under sustainable management practices and 4200 tonnes of tea were certified. Around 90% of the small-scale tea farmers who have adopted sustainable practices also produce Yerba Mate; so the next step is to scale up to Yerba Mate, an infusion that is widely consumed in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay.


The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) commissioned a study by Aidenvironment in April 2013 to describe and analyze the Lestari Tea Standard. The standard’s establishment, its functioning and the business case it presents to smallholders, were all considered. The study revealed that the introduction of the Lestari certification scheme has had a significant impact on tea smallholders. It has positively affected their livelihoods and strengthened relationships within the supply chain. For further upscaling of the standard, three main challenges have been identified: (1) create demand, (2) build technical and organisational capacity and (3) finance the necessary investments at the farm level. Together with Utz Certified and LEI (WUR), a long-term impact study was started in Kenya and Malawi in 2010. This showed that average sustainability scores have increased, along with significant improvements in health, safety and environment. These lessons were analysed and are now being integrated in Solidaridad’s tea programme.


The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Hindustan Unilever Limited and Tata Global Beverages are funding the Trustea programme in India, and IDH is also involved in East Africa. DE Foundation is the funding partner in Sri Lanka. Implementation partners are Business Watch Indonesia and Sariwangi in Indonesia, the Centre for Social Development and Ethical Tea Partnership in Sri Lanka, and KTDA and EATTA in East Africa.

Challenges ahead

The Kenyan Tea Development Authority (KTDA) model has long been seen as the only successful way to address smallholders’ sustainability issues. It has worked very well in Kenya but is difficult to replicate in Asia, where smallholdersprimarily cater to domestic markets. There’s a need for local ownership of sustainability standards, as has been shown with the fast uptake of the Lestari standard in Indonesia and the potentially massive impact of the Indian and Chinese tea standards. Finally, it’s crucial for Solidaridad to engage in tea trade policies and connect the sustainability discourse with demand, supply, quality and price issues at the global level.