The most used beverage in the world

Tea is amongst the most competitive products in the beverage industry. The competition is high and the sector needs to be seriously concerned about developing an innovative strategy for its product, process and markets. It also needs to be fully aligned with the global sustainability agenda. The sector, when viewed in regional contexts, is generally considered to be mature and too slow to adapt to change in both behavioral and in its adaptation of current technology. Despite that, it continues to remain the second cheapest beverage after water.

Number of farmers and workers supported


Total hectares under sustainable management



As the lead implementing partner for the Trustea India Sustainable Tea programme, the largest of such in the world, Solidaridad’s participation was key to achieving a verified volume of 371 million kilograms of Trustea verified tea for the domestic market. This achievement was possible because of the outreach model adopted and the close interaction the farm support centres maintained with the producer companies. The programme focused on:

  • Training auditors to ensure the quality of audits

  • Introducing systems assurance audits (control audits) on a random basis to ensure quality is not diluted at any stage

  • Including small tea growers in the project – more than 25,000 small farmers were verified

  • Developing a product traceability mechanism (chain of custody) for a continuous audit trail from tea bust to factory exit gate

  • Close cooperating with the local authority, Tea Board of India

Solidaridad built on its regional alliance by creating the “Asia Consensus” in which the global Solidaridad Network played a crucial role in bringing together the China Tea Marketing Association and the India producer association in southern India (UPASI) to the table to sign an MoU. This was a groundbreaking achievement.

In East Africa, two projects were brought over from the previous year: climate change adaptation and mitigation and that of direct tea exports to the European Union. Furthermore, a project on enabling policy environments under the Advocacy for Change programme was started in Uganda. During the year, a baseline was established, and a validation workshop was provided to stakeholders, during which a steering committee was formed to drive the implementation of the project. A partner enhancement assessment was also started.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • China

    Engagement with the China Tea Marketing Association continued with a view to strengthening relationships and cooperation and bringing about synergies in the region. Solidaridad will assist in the development of a tea sustainability code or standard for China.

  • East & Central Africa

    Solidaridad’s work on climate-smart agriculture continued on building the capacity of farmers and staff of three factories, as well as training 82 promoter farmers and 136 agronomists who in turn reached 1,000 farmers. A massive tree planting programme (83,000 indigenous tree seedlings) was undertaken to improve biodiversity in the catchment areas of the factories. A total of 30 agronomists from smallholder and tea estate factories in Uganda were trained on tea husbandry, covering both theory and field practices.

  • Europe

    Solidaridad Europe collaborated with the DE foundation and Utz Certified to evaluate a tea programme in Sri Lanka. It also supported the development of a new proposal and project for the European Union for the tea programme in Sri Lanka. Solidaridad also continued to spur the global debate on living wages by contributing its experiences from the tea sector.

  • South America

    Development of a sustainable supply chain for yerba mate started in 2015 and continues to promote the adoption of good agricultural practices for the production of yerba mate. Yerba mate producer support is key to the programme and is achieved through trainings and technical advice to cooperatives. As part of the social scope, Solidaridad also supported small producers to improve their livelihood who were not associated with the cooperative.

  • South & South-east Asia

    Trustea, the India sustainable tea programme, completed its third successful year with significant milestones being achieved. The Trustea programme emerged as the largest tea code for sustainability by transforming 36% of India’s tea production.


The tea growing regions experienced a wide range of developments in 2016. The year saw a turning point as China began to play a more active role on the global stage as it started to exert its influence in the global arena, not only on economic matters but also on sustainable development. As a first step, China demonstrated its potential leadership in the climate change narrative when President Xi Jinping submitted its ratified Paris Agreement to the UN Secretary-General at the G20 Summit in September. China’s image as the world’s “factory” is being transformed to one of an innovator in science and technology.

Producing more food with fewer resources to meet ever-rising demands has emerged as a major challenge for Asia. This has resulted in pressures on land, water and energy resources on account of competing claims. Farm sizes are also becoming smaller and the availability of farmland scarce. The Indian government has committed to a goal of doubling farm income in five years. The sustainability discourse in India (as in much of Asia) is driven through locally developed and owned standards. The Indian government actively supports the Trustea standard for tea.

In Argentina and Brazil, the region’s economy shrunk in 2016. Heightened volatility in currency markets and severe recessions resulted in reduced investments.

In East Africa, the tea producing countries reported increased production resulting in lower price realizations for smallholder farmers, which led to reduced incomes. Climate change continues to be a major threat to the tea industry in the region.

Programme investments in thousand euros


Contracted partners per region excluding producer organizations



Through the Trustea programme in India, partnerships with major businesses such as Hindustan Unilever Limited and Tata Global Beverages Limited progressed well. The Trustea programme seeks to engage with other regional tea packers and is hopeful of bringing them on board as partners to the programme.

Solidaridad also maintains long-standing partnerships with numerous government-affiliated industry associations like the China Tea Marketing Association.

In East Africa, Solidaridad’s tea programmes focused on climate change partnered with the Ethical Tea Partnership, Tea Directorate, Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO), Tea Research Institute, the Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and the East Africa Tea Trade Association (EATTA). In Uganda, partnerships were maintained with the national research organization and Uganda Tea Association.


The farming environment has become unforgiving and punishing which compels growers to modify management practices to sustain production.

In the last 30 years, more extreme weather events have been witnessed as compared to the early and mid-twentieth century, while the last decade has been reported as one of the harshest for extreme weather events. Tea has been able to resist damage mainly because of scientific inputs and appropriate decision-making processes adopted at the field level.

Climate-smart agriculture consisting of seedlings and vegetatively propagated tea cultivars have been developed which suit local conditions and cultural practices. A single approach for identification and recommendation of tea cultivation practices is not a practical and acceptable one. That’s why it is essential to develop national or regional adaptation measures for combating risks of climate change while sharing knowledge among tea growing nations.

The second most important challenge is determining what is the right price for tea. This is a question raised in every tea growing region and needs to be addressed appropriately through a platform or roundtable stakeholders in the supply chain.

Ranjan Circar

International Programme Coordinator, Tea