Article was originally published on 21/05/2021 on unilever.com
A good cup of tea from bush to cup
What makes a good cup of tea? Taste? Ingredients? Good company? On International Tea Day, we celebrate the role of tea beyond refreshment – in sustaining the livelihoods and communities that help us take this crop from bush to cup.
Science tells us it takes two to five minutes to brew the perfect cup of tea. But the experience and flavours we associate with this drink go back a long way and are steeped in traditions shaped over centuries.
Legend has it that Chinese Emperor Shennong made the first cup of tea when a leaf from a nearby tree landed in a pot of boiling water back in 2737 BCE. Tea began travelling around the world when Russian merchants exported its leaves along the Silk Road in the early 17th century. It even made its way into children’s literature in works such as the Chinese folk story Mulan and the English classic, Alice in Wonderland. After water, tea is the most consumed drink in the world (Euromonitor, 2018). It is deeply rooted in many cultures worldwide and available in many varieties, from the classic black to uplifting bubble tea.
Connecting consumers, supporting communities
Every day, we touch the lives of around 621 million consumers who enjoy drinking a cup of tea from one of our brands. We aim to ensure that every cup of tea does good. And that’s not just through the quality or the wellbeing benefits it provides. It’s also through the difference tea can make to the farmers and communities that harvest and supply it.
Through the estates and smallholder farmers that supply us, we support the livelihoods of more than 1 million people in 21 countries. As a crop, tea plays a significant role in improving rural development and reducing poverty. Here are just four of the ways it makes a difference.
Putting change and sustainability on the menu
Smallholder farmers rely on their plots to provide food to sell and for their families to eat. Often their best crops go to market and not onto their plates. In partnership with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and partners such as Dharma Life and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP), we work with farmers, workers and their families to improve their diet and nutrition. Projects are being run in Tanzania, Assam (India) and Kenya, and together we have delivered training sessions which explain the benefits of diversifying crops and growing biofortified staples. The programmes will reach 89,000 estate workers in Assam and 26,000 smallholders in Kenya to help improve diet and nutrition.
Empowering women economically and financially
In Kenya we’ve been working to create additional income opportunities for tea farmers for some years and have supported farmer field schools across the country. These schools trained farmers in sustainable practices, increasing both quality and yield, with farmers obtaining Rainforest Alliance Certification for their tea crops. More recently, we started working with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to train women in good agricultural practices. New tea nurseries will soon start producing tea seedlings for them and village savings and loan association groups will be established. This will give women additional financial opportunities.
Engaging in women’s safety partnerships
Research estimates the cost of violence against women each year is an estimated 2% of global GDP. That equates to US$1.5 trillion. We are supporting the implementation of comprehensive women’s safety initiatives in Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya in partnership with governments, women’s rights organisations, NGOs and other partners, guided by the UN Women’s Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces (PDF | 7MB). We are also working with producers and other partners in India to enhance women’s safety through the Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund, managed by IDH. Women make up more than 60% of the workforce in tea plantations. They also represent a large number of smallholder farmers in the sector. We will continue to engage with communities and empower women and girls to help improve their safety so they can work and live free from sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.
Protecting and nurturing the land for future generations
Tea workers and farmers depend on the land to grow their tea. We’re committed to nurturing it for future generations and to building on programmes that implement sustainable and regenerative farming practices. These include improving soil and crop quality, biodiversity, tea plant breeding and reforestation. More than 10% of our Kericho tea estate in Kenya, for example, is covered in indigenous trees. Over the past years, we have planted 1.4 million trees across the estates and through donations of indigenous trees to local communities. Through a joint initiative with the Initiative for Sustainable Landscapes (ISLA) we’re also working to restore and conserve 60,000 hectares of the South West Mau Forest (PDF | 998KB) by 2030 through holistic landscape management.
We are proud of the part we’ve played in building a more sustainable tea industry and the partnerships that make it possible. We aim to grow a world of wellbeing through the regenerative power of plants. For nature, farmers and consumers. So, a good cup of tea is not simply one that tastes good but does good too.