Making the tea sector competitive, sustainable and fair

Solidaridad has achieved consensus on sustainable governance within the tea sector. It has been able to improve the livelihoods of farmers through raising awareness on the benefits of collectivisation and encouraging them to form self-help groups. Solidaridad also enhanced the understanding of tea pricing for small-scale farmers. While prevailing certification standards still have limitations, they provide an opportunity to engage with the tea industry stakeholders through national platforms and allow for discussions around more complex issues which cannot be addressed through certification alone. Solidaridad has been able to leverage these new approaches to gradually transform beyond the certification agenda.

Number of farmers and workers supported


Total hectares under sustainable management



As of December 2017, about 524 million kilograms of tea have been verified and certified covering 41% of the Indian tea production under the Trustea standards.  Around 200,000 hectares have been verified, covering a total number of about half a million workers (222,757 males and 284,877 females), as well as 40,000 smallholders of whom about 5,000 are females. 

Considerable progress made for infrastructure, system improvements have been achieved in the estates as a result of the Trustea programme. These include lasting improvements such as:

  • record keeping

  • farm dairy maintenance

  • analysis of farm inputs like fertilizer, fuel and agrochemicals

  • ensuring that soil analysis is a standard procedure

  • end product testing for Maximum Residue Levels (MRL)

  • periodic health check for employees exposed to hazardous chemicals

  • policy development

In addition to the improvements above, Solidaridad also lobbies for access to clean drinking water, the construction and installation of toilet facilities and water stations, and effluent treatment plants.

Trustea is working with commercial partners like Unilever and Tata to bring the private tea processing factories and small tea growers under its fold. About 176 million kg of processed tea from the factories have been successfully Trustea-verified as of December 2017.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • South America

    A new partnership with beverage supplier S&D resumed the producer support model Solidaridad consolidated in Argentina in 2013. This model certifies tea production under the Rainforest Alliance Standard. Training of trainers and the digital platform to manage technical assistance are ready to commence. This will prepare producers to become professional suppliers, focus on farm profitability and legal compliance, as well as Atlantic Forest biome conservation.

  • 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 last two decades have seen an increasing emphasis on approaches to promote sustainable production and trade of agricultural commodities, including tea. Solving sustainability issues in an integrated manner, however, comes with many limitations due to multiple factors including poor roads, the absence of internet connectivity, cultural issues and lack of awareness of Good Agricultural Practices, among others.

The business case and sustainability of the projects are invariably about increasing the productivity of the smallholders while protecting the environment. Increased tea production would undoubtedly lead to lower prices for the smallholders who are already struggling to cope with the prevalence of low prices over a very long period of time. CSOs often have neither the capacity nor the willingness to explore the way tea prices are set and initiate programmes in which high-quality tea could be produced in such a way that consumers would be willing to pay a higher price for a higher quality tea.

These dynamics also impede the scaling of projects and their influence on the overall performance of the sector. As a consequence, the tea sector is still characterized by structural issues of low smallholder incomes and workers’ wages, occupational health and safety risks, and food safety and quality issues. The sector is also increasingly affected by climate change, jeopardizing productivity and profitability in traditional tea growing regions.

The fundamental challenge is related to low retail prices for tea, and even with that low prices, very little of that trickles down to the producer. There is an urgent requirement to move away from tea mono-cropping to mixed crops. Another much-needed shift is from the estate system of producing tea to an effective smallholder system of tea production.

Tea consumption is growing at a rapid pace primarily driven by increasing demands from Asia, but the scope for increasing land used for tea cultivation or increasing yields is limited in Asia. The future of tea production in India and China is expected to occupy much fewer hectares and will be catering to high paying local consumers. Standard tea production is gradually migrating to Africa, which is already increasing its share in global tea production.



In its tea programme, Solidaridad worked with producer associations - large and small - and various tea oversight bodies with a focus on improving tea quality and tea prices.

Through the Lestari programme, a multi-stakeholder National Reference Group Platform and related working groups within the platform have been established. It facilitates evidence-based stakeholders dialogue on sustainable government incentives, and assists and builds the capacity of CSOs and other tea industry stakeholders to develop, adopt and implement a sustainability roadmap.

Solidaridad also participates in the Trustea Advisory Committee in India for the promotion of Trustea as a national sustainability framework.

Solidaridad provides regular expert advice on topics for the following agenda:

  1. Profitable returns for the smallholders
  2. Living income for the tea workers
  3. Increased consumer awareness on the value of high-quality tea
  4. Improved governance of tea smallholders in India and Indonesia
  5. Inter-cropping by tea smallholders
  6. Climate-adaptive tea production methods
  7. The mechanisation of tea production process 


No information was provided at the time of publication.

Ranjan Circar

International Programme Coordinator, Tea