We’ve had a focus on sustainability for years now. Our tea estates pioneered sustainable agriculture principles, helping small-holder farmers apply best-practice methods. Our approach originated in Unilever’s sustainable agriculture code: one that defines best agricultural practices and covers social, environmental and economic aspects. We still carry out the same detailed inspections, with the ambition to always improve.
In 2007, we became the first tea growing company in the world to be Rainforest Alliance Certified. To achieve this, our estates put measures in place to go hand-in-hand with protecting people and planet, while ensuring the profitability that lets sustainability continue.
We want to give back more than we take by using a nature restorative approach to growing tea, and it all starts with the soil. We have a very experienced team of tea agronomists and plant biologists working on innovative solutions to reduce farming inputs and improve soil health, combining the best of science and nature. We’ve already created one of the largest organic certified tea estates on some of our land in Kenya and are applying some of these farming principles to the rest of our estates. As part of our impact 2030 goals, we want to wipe out pesticide use on our own tea estates completely by 2025. It’s a bold move, and one that will be industry-leading – allowing us to produce the highest quality products with no pesticides at all. The good news is we’re almost there. We don’t apply pesticides to any of our commercial tea bushes. We only use insecticides or fungicides as a last resort in plant nurseries, to allow young crops to survive to maturity. And even though we only use herbicides on field boundaries and paths, we’re in the process of phasing them out completely.
Instead, we’re using natural methods to keep pests and diseases at bay. Large areas of our tea estates are under conservation, which means natural predators like birds and insects can pick off any threats to our tea leaves. There’s even a fungus called Trichoderma we’ve enlisted to help lend a hand.
Cutting back on fertilizer is more of a challenge. Tea needs a lot of nitrogen to keep it growing and high-yielding year round. Making nitrogen-based fertilizer is energy and fossil fuel intensive so we’re on a mission to cut back while still maintaining our high yields. Watch this space! We’re doing all we can to minimise energy use and reach 100% renewable energy by 2025.
Our digital agriculture programme plays a vital part in reducing our fertilizer use, but its benefits go even further, helping us predict the best time to harvest tea for that sweet-spot between yield and quality, minimising farming inputs and wastage. Find out more about our plans to be nature restorative.