The first ever International Tea Day, backed by the United Nations, takes place on 21 May. We take a look at the challenges facing the global tea industry, and how it can build back better after COVID-19 to support smallholder farmers and sustainability.
Tea, one of the oldest estate cash crops, can play a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction and food security.
The tea industry is a main source of income and export revenues for emerging economies and, as a labour-intensive sector, it can provide green jobs, especially in remote and economically disadvantaged areas. But, in most tea-growing countries, farmers and pluckers remain marginalized and poor. COVID-19 is also taking a toll on the industry, with many tea-producing areas seeing falls in output and demand.
“An increasing amount of the world’s tea is grown by smallholders, but they have not been equal beneficiaries in sustainability programmes, largely because companies who own factories where tea is processed (and may also own a plantation where the factory is situated) do not have the capacity, interest, or resources to set up training programmes in the communities,” says Edward Millard, Director, Landscapes & Communities, at Rainforest Alliance.
He adds that, post COVID-19, tea companies are likely to pay more attention to small growers, supporting their organization, skills development, access to services and infrastructure, so that they become more resilient and contribute to sustainable supply chains. The Trinitea initiative in India is an example of this model.