A cup of tea is a daily ritual in the lives of millions throughout the world – and millions depend on it for their livelihood.
“The premium you give us is helping. Life is now smooth. Tea is our source.” Peter Kinarra, tea plucker, Chemase Estate, Rift Valley region, Kenya.
Tea originated in China thousands of years ago and today is a global billion dollar industry.
Tea provides income for more than 80 million tea growers in China and three million people in Kenya, as well as an estimated one million permanent tea growers in India - and twice as many seasonal labourers. Tea growers and pluckers (workers who pluck the tea leaves) earn a fraction of the price tea fetches on the international market and of what is paid in shops in Australia and New Zealand. While most tea is grown on large tea estates, many smallholder farmers also grow it.
Small-scale tea farmers account for a large proportion of tea production in many countries, such as Kenya and Sri Lanka, and the number of women employed in the industry makes them vulnerable to exploitation when wages are low. These farmers sell their freshly-plucked green leaf to plantations or tea factories for processing into black tea, but they have little power in supply chains controlled by large companies. Not only are they vulnerable to low and fluctuating prices, but they can also lack agricultural tools, such as fertilisers or irrigation, to improve to the quality of their crop.
On tea estates the challenges for workers are many, ranging from low wages, long working hours and a difficult relationship with estate management, who they depend on for housing, healthcare, access to water and even education for their children. There are limited alternative employment options available for most of these workers, so they can find themselves stuck living and working in poor conditions. Improving wages improves the lives of farmers and women workers in the tea industry.
Fairtrade works with small-scale tea farmers and estates to address the challenges that farmers and workers face. Together we are working to create better conditions and improve the lives of more than 360,000 people engaged in the Fairtrade tea sector. By looking for the Fairtrade Mark when you shop for tea, you can help us make conditions better for even more in the tea industry.
Where can I buy Fairtrade tea?
The Small Organic Farmer's Association in Sri Lanka
Dr Sarath Ranaweera, a scientist who previously worked at the Sri Lanka Tea Research Institute, knew that small-scale farms in Sri Lanka’s mid-grown tea areas had been abandoned or neglected because of lack of demand and the poor prices paid to farmers. Dr Ranaweera worked with a group of these farmers to set up a partnership with Bio Foods, an organic tea exporter, which would support their conversion to organic production, expand production and improve quality, with Bio Foods guaranteeing to purchase all their green leaf production.
Ten years after SOFA’s tea (green leaf) became Fairtrade certified the group had grown from 183 farmers to 1,699. Now, Bio Foods pays SOFA members the negotiated price of Rs 50-Rs60 per kilo, according to quality, which is around double the price paid by local traders. SOFA also receives the additional Fairtrade Premium for every kilo of tea, which is being used toward some exciting projects which are helping to support gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Read more about the story of SOFA and their development projects.