Future looks healthy for global tea sector

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.

Number of farmers and workers supported


Total hectares under sustainable management



In South America, the approach with producer associations in Yerba Mate has closely followed the example of Argentina between 2010 and 2014 with continual improvement schemes focused on raising productivity and legal compliance.

In Paraguay, a project initially targeting around 200 members of Colonias Unidas cooperative expanded to reach 1,200 producers directly and indirectly. Specialists from Argentina were brought in to build local capacity, train 26 trainers and set demonstration plots to disseminate results. Fertilization and pruning practices were adopted by 95% of producers.

In Argentina, a total of 689 producers and 192 workers were trained in good agricultural practices, natural resource management and safe use of agrochemicals. This amounts to 2,575 hectares operating under better management practices.

In the Eastern & Central Africa region, interventions focused on building the capacity of smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and mitigation for resilience. Four managers, four tea extension staff and 27 lead farmers from one tea factory took part in a training-of-trainers (TOTs) programme.

In the India Sustainable Tea Programme, Trustea’s main focus is to accelerate the transformation of the Indian tea market in partnership with industry stakeholders. The four-year programme seeks to sustainably transform 400 million kg (8% of all black tea in the world) or 33% of all tea produced in India. The programme will benefit around 500,000 workers and 40,000 smallholders who are growing tea on around 300,000 hectares of land.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • East & Central Africa

    Tea is an important commodity in the Eastern and Central Africa region, contributing to improved livelihoods in households and macro-economic development for the countries. Tea is also a major contributor of foreign exchange for the East Africa Community (EAC) countries, employing thousands of people from the local population and providing a source of livelihood for over 10 million citizens.

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  • South America

    After five years, Solidaridad’s tea programme in South America crossed the frontiers of Argentina and landed in Eastern Paraguay. This expansion was the result of Solidaridad’s shift to yerba mate cultivation in 2014 in Argentina. Yerba mate is highly appreciated among smallholders as a fast return cash crop to diversify production. Increasing yields by adopting good practices opens an opportunity to improve income and living conditions.

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  • South & South-east Asia

    The Trustea programme seeks to facilitate a locally developed Indian tea code which is meaningful, cost effective and practical to implement without compromising on globally accepted core sustainability standards. The programme was developed after a series of consultations with Indian tea industry stakeholders because it is one of the largest in terms of size and targets for introducing sustainable tea in India for the first time.

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The year 2015 saw the culmination of a decade-long campaign by civil society organizations in Europe to persuade tea businesses to improve their sustainability performance. By 2015, most teas in Western Europe were supplied by certified sources using one of the global standards such as RA, Fair Trade or UTZ Certified.

Most global tea packing companies have committed to introduce sustainable tea in all markets where they operate, which affects Asian tea markets as the bulk of world’s tea is produced and consumed in this region. Examples of such programmes are the Lestari and Trustea initiatives in Indonesia and India respectively.

Globally connected businesses are facing regular scrutiny from international agencies who have launched major campaigns highlighting some of the alleged abuses that prevail in the tea sector. Within the market, some tea blending and packaging activities have been moved to producer countries in a strategic shift by packers in consumer countries. Supply chain costs have increased as processing and distribution costs rise, mainly due to rising fuel costs. The FAO has identified persistent problems of oversupply in the world tea market that have put downward pressure on world prices and called for an expansion in demand and reduction in supply to achieve market balance.

Programme investments in thousand euros


Contracted partners per region excluding producer organizations



Donors for the yerba mate programme include the Dutch embassy and Syngenta Argentina. The latter is a new partnership to develop the Rural Horizons tool in 2016.

In Paraguay, the main partner is Colonias Unidas cooperative, while in Argentina, after a year of scoping, the partners chosen were:

  • Cooperativa Dos de Mayo Ltda.
  • Cooperativa de Productores yerbateros de Soberanía Ltda.
  • Cooperativa Agrícola Unión Ltda.
  • Establecimiento Don Germán SRL
  • Establecimiento Don Leandro SRL
  • Yerbatera del Nordeste

Solidaridad East & Central Africa received funding from Irish Aid for its climate change project and the Centre for Promotion of Imports (CBI), an agency of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to implement the market access project.

In the climate change project, we partnered with smallholder tea factory Gitugi in training the trainers on climate change adaptation and mitigation. We partnered with the Tea Directorate of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority (AFFA), the Tea Research Institute (TRI) and Ethical Tea Partnership, a regional members’ organization, and the East Africa Tea Trade Association (EATTA) to organize a regional annual tea stakeholders conference attended by 139 delegates.

We worked with small and micro-enterprise (SME) tea packing factories, Meru Herbs and Home Comforts, who are involved in direct tea exports. Solidaridad in Africa helped them to implement a food safety management system (FSMS) based on HACCP principles. A new partnership was started with Mau Tea Multipurpose Cooperative Society to implement the SAN standard for RA (Rainforest Alliance) certification.

In Malawi, a joint project with three certification organizations – Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), Rainforest Alliance (RA) and UTZ Certified (UTZ) – ended in February.

The Trustea programme in India continued with active support of its funding partners IDH, Hindustan Unilever Ltd and Tata Global Beverages Ltd.


In South America, despite the increasing demand for yerba mate, profitability in the sector relies heavily on productivity. Producers with low plant density and inferior technological practices are predominant. Access to technical assistance has been effective, but to increase our impact more time is needed to build capacity and provide for trained and qualified technical staff.

The Eastern & Central Africa region has been heavily affected by the fluctuation in global tea prices caused by climate change as the region accounts for over one-third of global exports. Farmers’ returns have fallen due to low prices at auction. Because tea is sold in bulk at the Mombasa Auction, overproduction significantly leads to reduction in global prices causing a ripple effect. Suggested solutions include value addition and direct exports to tea consuming countries. Solidaridad, together with partners, has successfully intervened through the Market Access project.

The tea programme in the region has been affected for some time now by lack of funds. This has been brought about by a shift from cash crop interventions to food security issues. Tea is also seen as a political crop which attracts interest from national and county governments. Donors find the tea value chain to be high risk.

In the Trustea programme, the challenges Solidaridad and implementing partners are mainly faced with concern the small tea growers who are mostly unorganized.

Ranjan Circar

International Programme Coordinator, Tea