That hot and aromatic cuppa has a whole industry working towards creating a sustainable, climate friendly and pesticide free ecosystem. The blue print is already there, and it is time for all tea cultivators to partake in this movement to save the plant.
As I sip on my morning cup of refreshing hot tea, a newspaper in hand, it is difficult to ignore the headlines that appear with disconcerting regularity on the ill effects of climate change. Climate change is a reality and it is happening here and now.
Globally, businesses are realising that climate change affects every industry and poses a threat to investment and continuing growth. This applies to the tea industry as well. Producing the world’s oldest beverage, which is gearing up to meet a projected worldwide consumption volume of 3.36 million tonnes by 2021 - The tea industry in India is not isolated, and a focus on sustainable production is important to not just contribute to the mitigation of the effects of climate change, but also stay competitive in a large and growing market.
Sustainable sourcing is important to reassure consumers that their cup of tea is produced in a manner that is economically, environmentally and socially just for communities and ecosystems. There are challenges in sustainable sourcing of tea with respect to human rights, working and living conditions, food safety, and traceability. There is a need to disseminate sustainable agricultural practices in the use of agrochemicals, natural resources like soil, water and biodiversity, energy and climate change management.
The growth of small tea growers, who produce 45 percent of Indian tea and 70 percent of Kenyan tea, offers both a challenge and an opportunity for sustainable sourcing of tea. These challenges are complex and require long-term planning and action, with the involvement of all stakeholders.
To their credit, the Indian tea industry is taking steps to ensure sustainable growth with opportunities for all stakeholders across the supply chain. The industry is today working to improve the wellbeing of the tea communities and their environment, to create a thriving tea industry that is socially just and environmentally sustainable. A lot needs to be done and progress is being made in the right direction.
Companies in the business are getting together with initiatives that promise to have a long-term positive impact on tea workers as well as the environment. From the “Ethical Tea Partnership” and “The Rainforest Alliance” at a global level to “trustea” - the India Sustainable Tea Code at the domestic level, Indian companies are today active partners in the efforts to ensure a sustainable tea industry.
The Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance was founded in 1987 to address the complex issues in the context of rural landscapes and commodity value chains. It aims to conserve biodiversity and ensure a sustainable livelihood through a sustainable agriculture certification programme that covers sustainability standards, auditing processes, and a consumer-facing label, as well as training and other support to facilitate the transition to sustainable agriculture. The seal is awarded to farms, forests, and businesses that meet rigorous environmental and social standards. When purchasing tea with the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, consumers are assured that the tea is grown and harvested on tea estates that follow sustainable practices.
At the close of 2017, the Rainforest Alliance certification programme included about 1.3 million farmers in 57 countries, covering a total area of about 3.5 million hectares. Production from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms accounted for approximately 10.2 percent of the world’s total production of cocoa, 19.9 percent of the world’s tea, 5.6 percent of the world’s coffee, and 6.4 percent of the world’s banana crops. Independent studies have found that Rainforest Alliance certification was associated with higher household incomes and lower rates of poverty for coffee-farming households compared to non-certified farms, and had a positive effect on forest quality.
The Ethical Tea Partnership
The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) is a non-commercial partnership of the tea industry and development partners, NGOs and governments to bring about a prosperous, fair and socially just, and environmentally sustainable tea industry for tea workers, farmers and their families as well as the environment.
One of the unique ways in which ETP affects sustainable change is through Farmer Field Schools (FFS), which lets farmers learn through practice on demonstration plots. Using a “train-the-trainer” approach, local ETP staff provide training to a group of identified lead farmers, who then go on further to train a smaller group of farmers. To date, the Ethical Tea Partnership has touched the lives of over 700,000 people in tea communities and targets changing the lives of over one million people by 2020 across the world.
To address some of the structural challenges facing the Indian tea industry, trustea was developed as an Indian sustainability code and verification system for the tea sector, enabling producers, buyers, and others involved in Indian tea businesses to obtain tea that has been produced according to agreed, credible, transparent and measurable criteria.
Co-funded by IDH, Tata Global Beverages, Hindustan Unilever, and Wagh Bakri, the trustea programme supports smallholders and estates in improving the competitiveness of tea gardens by positively influencing the practices and scale of production, farm organisation, processing, new technologies, and supply chain development. An extensive ecosystem of locally developed resources – guidebooks, trustea consultants and managers help the industry to transform sustainably in an impactful manner.
Till August 2019, trustea has verified 608 million kg of tea, which is almost half (46 percent) of the total tea produced in the country annually. The programme has created positive impact by engaging with nearly 50,000 smallholder tea growers, 3 lakh female workers and 2.5 lakh male tea workers and certifying over 460 estates and bought leaf factories for demonstrating progress and improvements under the good agricultural and manufacturing practices of the trustea Code.
Tata Global Beverages and Hindustan Unilever, in a demonstration of their commitment to promoting sustainability in the sector, are committed to buying only trustea-verified tea by 2020, leading to a tremendous market incentive for the producers of tea to move towards trustea certification.
Trustea is now in its second iteration – trustea 2.0 and is moving the Indian tea industry beyond compliance.
A peek into the future
Some initiatives and changes on the ground show the way the industry has to move in the future. From inclusive business models and eco-friendly pesticides to resilient supply chains, capabilities are being built that can meet the challenges of the future.
In 2005, Tata Tea exited plantations business to focus on its branded tea business. While restructuring, the management came up with an idea of implementing a participatory management model – where the employees of the company are the shareholders making this the largest employee-owned plantation company in the world. The Kanan Devan Hills Plantation (KDHP) continues to be an excellent illustration of shared values. Today more than 12,000 employees work in KDHP, making participatory model successful and sustainable.
There is a need for pesticides that are organic, eco-friendly, biodegradable, and non-toxic. Biopesticides such as Project S-PPF or Sustainable Plant Protection Formulation, the world’s first multi-plant formulation, provide bio-efficacy comparable to chemical acaricides and can provide crop protection from Red Spider Mites while providing plant nutrition to make the tea crops stronger and healthier, and grow resilient to pest attacks over time.
Climate-resilient supply chains
Tea farmers and producers should build capacities on sustainable agricultural practices, and trained to increase their resilience to the effects of climate change, especially in the areas of drip irrigation, rainwater harvesting and fuelwood conservation. A strategic focus on preserving forests, wildlife and water sources will secure them from the vagaries of climate change.
We have achieved a lot and we can take action to do much more. The tea industry can achieve a prosperous and low carbon future by future proofing itself from the impact of climate change. We can then all sit back and enjoy a refreshing cup of hot tea!