Where does fair trade tea come from?
Traidcraft fair trade tea comes from carefully selected smallholder farmers in Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania.
This is very different to a lot of the tea that finds its way into teapots in the UK
A lot of tea is produced on large plantations and estates across India, East Africa, and Sri Lanka, and is picked by employed labourers who work long hours for notoriously low wages. In countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, most of the tea is grown on smallholder farms, which are often less than half a football pitch in size. These smallholder farmers find it nearly impossible to compete with the large plantations, who always own and control the tea processing facilities which are essential in handling the perishable tea leaf, which has to be processed within 24 hours.
In return for their hand-picked, garden-grown tea, the smallholders receive low and unstable prices from either the large plantations, or the international broker companies. These growers earn a tiny fraction of the price their tea is sold for on the international market, and frequently end up trapped in a cycle of debt and dependence.
By contrast, many of the smallerholders that we work with have farmer-owned factories, which means that they earn better returns for their work. In Malawi, whilst the farmers don’t own their factory, there are other positives, including a good relationship with the private sector factory that processes their tea – and all Fairtrade benefits go to them.
In Malawi, we source our fair trade tea leaves and buds from the Sukambizi Association Trust, a Fairtrade certified group which has transformed the lives of thousands of local people through fair trade. Sukambizi unites over 6,000 farmers, split into community clubs of 20-40 members.
Sukambizi tea is harvested from slopes near Mount Mulanje, the highest peak in Malawi. Malita Makima’s 3,000 tea plants grow on the lower slopes of the mountain, an hour’s walk from her home in Kalozwa village. Malita sees herself as both a tea farmer and an entrepreneur. She trains local farmers in good agricultural practices, offering advice on planting, nurturing, and harvesting.
There are around 400 households in Malita’s village, in which most live traditional tea growers. The money the community has earned from sales of their fair trade tea has contributed towards starting up a local maternity clinic, and there’s hope that the village will be able to build bridges, buy an ambulance, and strengthen a stable water supply system too!
In Kenya, we work with Fairtrade Certified tea operations.
The Iriaini Tea Factory can be found in the Othaya district in Kenya and is supplied with tea leaves and buds from around 6,000 local growers. The volcanic soil in the area makes it perfect for the growing of tea and coffee.
Mathew Ng’enda is the factory manager at Iriaini. He’s been passionate about fair trade tea for many years, but has since carried over his enthusiasm into beekeeping too! With each generation the land owned by tea-growing families has been divided, so for many farmers their livelihoods aren’t measured by hectares or acres – they’re measured by tea bushes and stems. Most families own less than one acre of land and use 25% of their soil for growing their own vegetables. For a family to be supported fully by tea, a grower really needs at least 2 acres of tea bushes. Traidcraft have worked with Iriaini in the past to help the growers learn how to earn a living through using their unused rough land in other ways – such as keeping bees!
The Ndima Tea Factory can be found on the southern slopes of Mt Kenya, and a short distance from the Mt Kenya forest. Set up in 1981, Ndima brings together the tea leaves and buds from around 8,500 local growers. These farmers own plots that collectively make up 1,300 hectares of local land.
Patricia Mutangili is the youngest member of her family to be growing tea. She inherited 1,000 stems of tea from her father, some of which has been grown by the family for generations. Patricia is passionate about the quality of her tea, and often picks it before 7am, to take it to the collection centre when it's fresh, and does not loose its quality.
Visit Patricia’s home and you soon discover that very little happens without a cup of tea to hand. Thermos flasks of tea are ready to be enjoyed throughout the day, and she’s always ready to talk about the importance of tea as a drink and a crop.
Patricia is a real advocate for fair trade in her local community: