Tea

Globally, the tea industry employs over 13 million people, of whom nine million are smallholder farmers. The tea sector plays an important role in the livelihoods of rural communities and economies of producing countries. At the family-farm level, tea is a cash crop that helps both farmers and workers to sustain their livelihoods.
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45

processors supported to adopt good practices

124

brands and companies targeted by lobbying and advocacy who adopt sustainable practices

505,045

volume produced according to Climate Smart Agriculture practice

Challenges

Lack of fair pay and threats to biodiversity

Tea is one of the most widely enjoyed drinks in the world, but it is far from sustainable for the smallholder farmers and land involved in its production and processing.

Today, smallholder farmers are the primary global tea producers. Asia produces 70% of the world’s tea, and yet smallholders see less than 3% of its retail value. Smallholders are neglected at the base of the supply chain, often lacking the technical knowledge and resources to improve the quality of their produce.

Tea is grown on some of the planet’s most ecologically sensitive areas. Clearing land to make way for tea farms, whether by smallholders or industrial plantations, causes the displacement of indigenous plants and wildlife, which reduces biodiversity and threatens entire ecosystems.

When tea is grown as a monoculture, a loss of biodiversity occurs. This means the soil cannot produce the nutrients required to be healthy and productive. Artificial fertilizers and pesticides compound these issues, seeping into the ground and resulting in even more soil degradation.

I’m a small tea grower having my tea field in Jamaldaha village. My knowledge on tea cultivation was outdated prior to my joining Trinitea programme. Due to continuous guidance, I have been able to reduce my input costs by almost 45-50%.

Raton Roy, small tea grower and member of Jalpaiguri District Small Tea Growers Association,
Jamaldaha village, Jalpaiguri District, North Bengal, India

Solutions

Inclusivity and collaboration to drive sustainability

By linking sustainable suppliers with growing demand, smallholders and estate workers can improve their yields, labour conditions, and farming practices. They can also , but their ability to yield the most out of their lives.

We work with companies to develop their corporate social responsibility mechanisms, monitoring, and strategic community development. We provide risk assessment and management support, contributing to the sourcing of sustainably produced tea from smallholders. This helps to close the gaps in the supply chain between companies and smallholders.

Working alongside smallholders is essential for a sustainable tea industry from which all can profit. In India, the world’s second largest tea-growing nation behind China, we entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Federation of Small Tea Growers, working to ensure that labour rights and living wages are respected.

With women making up 50-80% of the tea labour force, gender inclusivity is vital to the sustainability of the industry and protection of human rights. A gender-sensitive approach gives women access to training and capacity building, uses  gender-sensitive certification, and fosters gender awareness among men.

Trinitea is a new initiative for the integration of smallholders with the tea trade and commerce. I am confident that Trinitea would become a prime mover in transforming the smallholdings into sustainable units for ensuring the farmers a bright future.

Vivek Goenka, Chairman, Indian Tea Association, Kolkata, India

Achievements

Ascending the tea value chain

 In 2023, the tea programme supported the establishment of 24 farmer-producer organizations (with 1,489 growers), and 124 self-help groups (with 2,995 growers) in India. In partnership with the Confederation of Small Tea Growers Association, a white paper on sectoral challenges and policy recommendations was submitted to the Government of India. Traceability from farm-to-cup through a QR code was introduced in South India.

In Southern Africa, we empowered 1,265 producers in tea with knowledge and skills. And successfully completed baseline studies and validation workshops in Malawi and Mozambique.

Women labour

Women form a large percentatge of the labour force attached to the tea sector. In Malawi, the project has revised the gender policy as well as the occupational health and safety policies which will be enforced at industry level, these exist to increase worker’s safety within the sector. In Mozambique the tea sector is at its infancy, as a result the project has influenced the labour and taxation policies of the estates to help make the sector more sustainable

Tea Malawi

Digital tools

In 2021 the Trinitea programme covered a total area of 41,400 hectares under climate management practices in India. 105,000 tea farm workers improved their working conditions, of whom over 60 percent are women (temporary) farmworkers.

In South America, we assessed producers’ compliance against the sustainability indicators of SAGP in partnership with 66 producers supplying 820 tons of raw yerba mate to Leão Alimentos e Bebidas, a Coca-Cola Company in Brazil, and with the use of Extension Solution, a digital data tool for educators in agricultural good practices.

Making strides

In Uganda, we supported finalization and dissemination of key national tea documents, particularly the National Tea Policy, National Tea Policy Implementation Plan, and Regulatory Impact Assessment. The National Implementation Plan was agreed and finalized, and is awaiting review by the Cabinet – Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. 

In Asia, Trinitea, the digital self-assessment application continued growth, helping to assess on farm sustainability and giving farmers access to good agricultural practice information.

Surpassing targets

In Argentina, participants in our sustainable tea initiative produced 15,600 tonnes of green leaves for the US market, 25% more than the original target. Nearly 4,000 hectares were farmed using good agricultural practices, three times the target. A total of 166 producers were trained during the project and 140 of them succeeded in obtaining Rainforest Alliance certification. In Asia, we reached out to seven major small tea growers’ associations. With a joint membership of over 60,000 growers, these account for nearly 200 million kg of tea a year. We aimed to register half the growers for our TRINITEA sustainable framework, with the remainder to be done in 2020. In fact, we registered over 36,000, nearly all of whom were trained to comply with TRINITEA and to follow good agricultural practices.

Tea sector consensus

Solidaridad has achieved consensus on sustainable governance within the tea sector. It has been able to improve the livelihoods of farmers through raising awareness on the benefits of collectivisation and encouraging them to form self-help groups. Solidaridad also enhanced the understanding of tea pricing for small-scale farmers. While prevailing certification standards still have limitations, they provide an opportunity to engage with the tea industry stakeholders through national platforms and allow for discussions around more complex issues which cannot be addressed through certification alone. Solidaridad has been able to leverage these new approaches to gradually transform beyond the certification agenda.

Striving for innovation

Tea is amongst the most competitive products in the beverage industry. The competition is high and the sector needs to be seriously concerned about developing an innovative strategy for its product, process and markets. It also needs to be fully aligned with the global sustainability agenda. The sector, when viewed in regional contexts, is generally considered to be mature and too slow to adapt to change in both behavioral and in its adaptation of current technology. Despite that, it continues to remain the second cheapest beverage after water.

For sustainable supply chains

Served every morning to nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, tea continues to be the most popular non-alcoholic beverage and has gained further popularity as a health drink in view of its medicinal value. Developing sustainable supply chains in Asia remains an important challenge, as producers and smallholders continue to operate outside the scope of global sustainability programmes even though 74% of the world’s tea is consumed in Asia.

The Indian tea market

Solidaridad has played a pivotal role in implementing the Trustea programme, which aims to establish sustainable production in the Indian tea market, and the Teh Lestari scheme in Indonesia. Our partners in India are the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), Hindustan Unilever Ltd and Tata Global Beverages.

Making strides

Solidarided helped implement the Teh Lestari and Trustea codes in Indonesia and India.

Tea transformation

Solidaridad initiated a programme funded by the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and Hindustan Unilever Ltd. designed to transform half of the tea produced in India.

A new programme

The five-year India Domestic Sustainable Tea Programme (2012-2016) began.

Progress in Asia

Solidaridad facilitated the development of sustainability guidelines for the China tea industry. Also in Asia, Solidaridad established the Lestari national sustainability standard for Indonesian tea.

Studying impact

Together with UTZ Certified and LEI, a long-term impact study began in Kenya and Malawi.

First adopters

Rooibos farmers in South Africa became the first to adopt the UTZ standard for Rooibos tea.

Working together

Solidaridad began tea programme in partnership with UTZ Certified.

Where we work

Featured Programmes


Inspiring sustainable practices

Together with key industry stakeholders, Solidaridad has instituted the “India Sustainable Tea program” called “Trustea” since July 2013. The Tea Board of India (TBOI), IDH, Unilever, Tata Global Beverages (TGB), Wagh Bakri, Rainforest Alliance and the Ethical Tea Partnership are the key partners in the programme.

Read more

Tea in South America

Our tea programme is South America is helping farmers gain certification and build lasting relationships with private sector partners. Read more about farmers who are reaping the benefits of better practices and certification.

Join us in making tea truly sustainable

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