THIRST for spreading awareness
This month, THIRST has featured on Jing Tea’s website and the Tea For Me blog, sharing thoughts on sustainability and human rights in tea and in TeaBiz, talking about our Human Rights Impact Assessment plans.
We would be delighted to hear from tea workers’ and farmers’ representatives and civil society and industry tea experts who would like to be considered as part of the advisory committee for the study. Contact THIRST for more details or to arrange a preliminary chat.
THIRST for Technology, Transparency and Tea
May’s TEA Talk on Technology, Transparency and Tea brought together a diverse group of experts and stakeholders from around the world who learned about a range of initiatives being used in South and North India and Sri Lanka. These included electronic weighing scales linked to tea pluckers’ bank accounts to ensure accurate and timely payment of dues, solar panels on workers’ houses, the planned development of smart-phone apps to help small-scale tea farmers stay informed of prices and specialised gadgets that check the quality of tea while weighing it. Speakers conceded that the digital divide was still an issue so in the Nilgiris they are considering how to provide farmers with smartphones and Sri Lankan tea estates have set up computer training centres.
There will be a break in TEA Talks over the Summer. In the meantime, do contact THIRST with ideas and suggestions for TEA Talk topics.
THIRST’s new team member
THIRST is delighted to welcome Valeriia Bondar-Chagnaud as our part-time intern. Valeriia has over 10 years of experience as an international FMCG commerce and marketing professional. She is working full time and doing a part-time Master’s Degree in Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability with PR and Comms modules at Birkbeck University, but will also find time to help us with research and communications as we embark on the Human Rights Impact Assessment. She can be contacted on intern@THIRST.international
Tea News Summary
Health and COVID-19
May’s update is dominated by the surging Covid-19 infections and deaths in India’s tea plantations, which had been spared during the first wave last year. Concerns about rising COVID-19 infections in tea estates are also rising in Sri Lanka. Early in the month, Indian tea companies were still calling for exemption from lockdown restrictions, claiming “Covid safety protocols can be easily adhered to in the tea sector”. However, trade unions (although concerned about the impact on wages) and groups such as Assam Tea Tribes Students Association warned of the risks of this approach; “Workers work and move in large groups, so the potential for a rapid increase in infections among them is very alarming“. This, and overcrowded housing and poor sanitation and health facilities has meant that nearly half of Assam’s 800 tea estates have now reported infections; 6,146 workers had tested positive by the end of May, of whom 43 have died.
The pandemic is exposing afresh the “low daily wages, lack of education and poor hygiene” experienced by tea workers, as well as the fact that – according to one health worker – “the tea gardens lack proper medical facilities”. In Himachal Pradesh 13 infected migrant workers are reported to be living in sheds with “no drinking water facility”.
After it became clear that isolation in workers’ overcrowded homes risked increasing infection rates, Assam Health Minister Keshab Mahanta prohibited home isolation and said all Covid positive patients must isolate in Covid Care Centres – some financed by private sector crowd-funding – where they will be provided with free medicines and food. However, there are calls on government for more support to the healthcare infrastructure; Jorhat’s BJP MP, Kamakhya Prasad Tassa says “Most of the hospitals in the tea garden do not have COVID care facilities…” and that he is “not satisfied with the COVID care facilities in any of the tea gardens of Assam”.
The FAO virtually hosted representatives of the world’s top tea exporting, importing and producing countries to mark International Tea Day on May 21st. Key messages included the importance of tea as a source of livelihoods for millions in least developed countries and to support tea-producing countries’ economies in financing their food import bills; the effect of logistics issues and COVID-19 containment measures on global trade; how increasing in-home consumption of tea more than offset declining out-of-home consumption, with a 75% surge in in-home tea sales in some countries at the start of lockdown; and a warning that the tea value chain must be sustainable at all stages in order to protect people and the environment – especially as tea is often grown in areas vulnerable to climate impacts.
While tea prices at Mombasa auction have fallen due (says KTDA) to overproduction, impacting on farmers’ earnings, the Kenyan tea industry as a whole is reportedly recovering well from the pandemic. Clashes between KTDA and tea farmers continued last month with KTDA’s offer to farmers to become shareholders being rejected by many of them as a “token”.
Business has been booming for Tata Consumer Products, whose revenue has grown 1.6 times and net profit is up nearly two and a half times over the last three financial years. But its overall profit margin shrank nearly 10% primarily due to the rising cost of buying from tea estates. Meanwhile, tea workers are losing wages due to the pandemic and monsoon rains coinciding with a time of high food inflation.
Workers took over and successfully ran a failed tea estate in West Bengal, earning more than when it was managed by the original company. With a new company planning to “re-open” the estate, workers are being accused of theft. These workers recognise that they will be “dependent on the tea bushes for generations to come” and so see it as their responsibility to “maintain and safeguard these bushes, shade trees and other garden properties,” while “employers may come and go.”
More countries are considering boosting their tea production; South Africa’s Limpopo Economic Development Agency is seeking funds to revive the tea industry there as a way of tackling rampant unemployment. Pakistan’s Director of National Tea and High-Value Crops Research Institute is calling for measures to increase its share of the global tea market with technical support from China – including clearing forest land to create special tea zones. China itself has enhanced the value of its tea by granting geographical indication status to thousands of tea enterprises.
The Bangladeshi Tea Association is asking its government for subsidised wheat rations for tea workers citing unstable tea prices, low international demand for Bangladeshi tea, and doubling production costs.
Unilever’s tea business in Nigeria is set to be separated and become a newly incorporated tea company called New TeaCo.
Industrial Relations and Wages
Bangladeshi tea workers’ leaders marked International Tea Day with a conference calling for education, liveable housing, social protection and living wages for tea workers. The key-note paper highlighted non-compliance of regulations, discrimination, inequality and violence against women, violation of health and education rights, landlessness and lack of social protection.
Tea workers in India describe how their housing dependence traps them in work on the estate, but say they cant afford to build their own house from their wages. Housing provision hasn’t kept up with rising populations, leading, they say, to some quarters housing two families.
A small interim wage increase promised to Assam tea workers was swiftly revoked after push-back from the industry, and a new minimum wage fixing committee has been set up. Wages currently remain at Rs 167 a day – well below the Rs 351 recommended by the government in 2018.
During May, demonstrations involving hundreds of Sri Lankan workers erupted at several tea estates against increased daily productivity demands and wage cuts.
But tea workers in Unilever’s supply chain may benefit from its pledge to ensure that everyone directly providing goods and services to the company earns “at least a living wage or income” by 2030.
More evidence is emerging about the impact of the climate crisis on tea production (and thus on workers’ and farmers’ income). Its effects in Kenya are projected to “slash optimal conditions for tea production…” by a quarter by 2050, and other major tea-producing countries including India, Sri Lanka and China also face rising temperatures and new weather extremes according to a new report by Christian Aid. Big British tea brands and the Fairtrade Foundation have also raised concerns about the impact climate change is having on tea growers and the future of production. Meanwhile in India, due to “frequent variations in temperature and precipitation, cyclonic storms and floods” putting tea at risk – and consumer demand for action – Tata’s say they are implementing “eco-friendly practices” through Rainforest Alliance and Trustea certification.
Sri Lankan tea planters are resisting the government’s decision – without consultation – to ban chemical fertiliser and pesticides. A tea expert says that an earlier ban on glyphosate has had a direct impact on crop production, yields, productivity and quality – impacting on the livelihoods of workers. The commentator concedes that “there is general agreement that organic farming is the future” but fears its sudden implementation would be damaging to the industry.
Earth 911 describes the negative environmental impact of tea, as the monoculture approach makes plants more susceptible to disease, which leads to more intensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer, contributing to “deforestation, erosion, and pesticide contamination”. It says that half of the 62 teas tested by the US Food and Drug Administration in a 2015 study contained pesticide residues – and recommends using biological controls; site-specific fertilization plans or organic farming; and shade trees. It reminds us of an initiative of the FAO to create carbon-neutral tea by sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at each stage in the tea value chain.
TEA NEWS LISTINGS FOR MAY 2021
HEALTH and COVID-19
In Assam’s tea plantations, chronic water crisis ails workers unable to afford filters, sanitisers in the pandemic
23 May. First Post
Studies have shown that water quality and intake are important risk factors in the development of kidney stones. Both are matters of concern in Assam’s tea plantations, known as gardens. Nearly 55 percent of tea produced in India is from Assam, with the state supplying 80 percent of the country’s exports of the commodity. To produce such quantities requires a large workforce: around one million people labour in more than 800 tea gardens. These plantations are located far from towns and cities, and lack proper drinking and sanitation facilities. Several studies have found that drinking water quality is poor, and most plantations have no toilets, drinking water or running water…Access to sanitation is crucial in stopping the spread of COVID-19 . According to the latest reports, over 200 workers from at least two tea gardens in Assam’s Dibrugarh district have the virus, prompting the district administration to lock down the estates. A public health worker from Assam…said: “In the tea gardens people can’t afford hand sanitisers. They primarily use water and soap. If people don’t have access to clean water to even wash their hands, then it will be difficult to contain the spread of the virus.” The pandemic has made clear the importance of clean water for good health as never before. “If [workers] fall sick due to unclean water and COVID-19 , they will have to be hospitalised, and the tea gardens lack proper medical facilities,” the health worker added. A 2019 study published by Oxfam interviewed 510 workers from 50 Assam tea estates. The report revealed that water in every tea estate was of “poor quality”, often containing heavy metals. “The lack of clean and plentiful water on the estates – and the fact that the habit of filtering water is almost entirely absent – means that diseases such as cholera and typhoid are common,” the report said.
Assam Tea Estates See Over 300% Spike In Covid Cases In Last 10 Days
29 May. NDTV
Assam has 800 tea gardens and 370 of them are Covid-affected, according to data…In the last ten days, there has been a spike of over 300 percent in cases among the tea garden workers, deaths have also gone up threefold, according to the state government data accessed by NDTV. 57 new Covid care centres have come up in the tea garden. But around 29 affected tea gardens still don’t have Covid care centres. Till May 28, 6,146 tea garden workers tested positive, 43 of these died while till May 19, there were 1,851 positive cases in 229 tea gardens with 14 deaths – only 214 of these tea gardens had Covid care centres by that time. Assam has 800 tea gardens, 370 of them are Covid-affected while only 271 of these have COVID care centres, as per the data…The tea tribe community with their low daily wages, lack of education and poor hygiene are extremely vulnerable to covid infections- it’s a big reason for worry since they make about 18 percent of Assam’s population. “We are monitoring the situation closely. We have formed Covid management committees in every tea garden, they are sending us information where we need to start vaccinations and where testing is required. For the positive cases who are either quarantined or hospitalised, we are giving ₹ 2,000 financial assistance for ration for their family,” Assam’s Labour and Tea Tribe welfare minister Sanjay Kishan told NDTV. Mr Kishan, who hails from the tea tribe community, has been touring the affected tea gardens. “Complete vaccination of the tea garden community can perhaps check a mass spread of the virus and the government needs to prioritise it,” felt Maram Tanti of the All-Assam Tea Tribe Students’ Association ( ATTSA)Assam has over six lakh tea estate workers. Till now about 44 thousand have received the first dose of Covid vaccine and only over 3 thousand have got the 2nd dose.
Palampur: 13 tea estate workers test positive
29 May. TheTribune
[Himachal Pradesh, India] As many as 13 migrant labourers of a local tea estate and their two children (aged one year and 10 years) have tested positive for Covid-19. They are living in sheds at Saliana village, 7 km from here. Block Development Officer Rajeshwar Bhatia visited the place and advised the infected labourers to isolate themselves. The administration also provided them necessary medicines. The owner of the tea estate has taken the responsibility of following Covid protocol in the area. The local authorities are worried over the spread of Covid in labour colonies.There is no drinking water facility in these slums and labourers fetch water from nearby natural resources or public taps.
COVID-19 crisis: No home isolation for tea garden workers, says Assam Health Minister Keshab Mahanta
16 May. North East Now
The decision of not allowing home isolation for the tea garden workers was taken keeping in view that they live in congested areas, thus posing a threat to their families and others. “In case of tea gardens, we have taken a tough stance on isolation of the positive patients. No one will be allowed to avail home isolation in the tea gardens,” Assam Health Minister Keshab Mahanta said. Keshab Mahanta informed that those COVID-19 positive tea workers, who do not need hospitalisation, will be accommodated in COVID Care Centres for treatment. They will be given food and other medicines free of cost in these COVID Care Centres, informed the Assam Health Minister.
Kenya says tea industry recovering from COVID-19
21 May. Xinuanet
Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture said Friday that the country’s tea industry, which saw sluggish production, distribution and marketing due to COVID-19 restrictions, is recovering at a faster pace. Peter Munya, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, said the industry has adapted very quickly to the new normal and is now in a stable state. “Amidst the pandemic, tea production was significantly enhanced by 24 percent in 2020 to stand at 569 million kilograms against 458 million kilograms recorded in 2019,” Munya said in a statement released in Nairobi marking the International Tea Day.
Storm brews on Sri Lanka’s tea plantations
May 18. The Sunday Times
…concerns are rising over the increasing COVID-19 hit plantations as two estates continue to remain under lockdown and a number of pockets of cases are emerging in estates around the upcountry and low country. As a result of the local level lockdowns the COVID-19 positive cases are being isolated on the plantations itself.
Covid threat and drought combine to put India’s tea harvest at risk
16 May. Financial Times
The Indian tea harvests could be in danger due to the combined effect of the covid-19 pandemic and the droughts that devastate the producing regions of the Asian giant, report Financial Times. In a total of 90 tea plantations in the state of Assam, the main producer of Indian tea located in the northeast of the country, it has been reported about 500 positive for coronavirus, according to official data, although the infection rate could be higher. The situation is exacerbated by the living conditions of the workers in the settlements adjacent to the agricultural lands.“Workers work and move in large groups, so the potential for a rapid increase in infections among them is very alarming“said Diraji Gowara of the Assam Tea Tribes Students Association. In parallel, an outbreak has been reported in the state of West Bengal, where it originates. the prized Darjeeling black tea. Local elections are reported to have just been held in both states, which could be behind the increase in cases. Meanwhile, authorities are trying to prevent the virus from spreading to the remaining 800 plantations in Assam. For this they installed vaccination camps to inoculate workers, although these centers experience difficulties giving injections in the midst of the national health crisis.
As Covid Cases Ring Alarm Bell in Assam Tea Gardens, Owners Complain Lack of Health Infrastructure
15 May News 18 India
Fifty-three-year old Tara Singh who tested Covid-19 positive on Monday was advised for home isolation as he did not show stark symptoms of the infection. However, this home isolation for the employee of Cinnamara Tea Estate in Jorhat district of Assam ended abruptly in the evening as he had to be rushed to a nearby hospital. Home isolation for Singh and 14 more like him of the same tea garden was proven to be a blunder. “There are nine of us in this ward at the hospital. I had a fever and cough initially when the garden authorities advised me to get my COVID test done. I tested positive and they asked me to go home and keep myself in isolation. The labour quarters barely have two-room the toilets are distant apart. In most of cases it’s open defecation that still exists. Each household is adjacent to the other and is overcrowded as its mostly joint families. I had locked myself in one room in the afternoon, however by evening they admitted me to the hospital…
Owned by the Assam Tea Corporation Limited, Cinnamara Tea Estate has around 2,500 employees and a population of over 6,000. On May 10, 19 garden workers including men and women were tested positive and referred for home isolation as per practiced Covid-19 protocols. However, the 8×8 allotted garden labour quarter does not physically qualify for the basic requirements of home isolation in Covid-19 patients.
“I am worried about the rise of Corona cases in the tea gardens and it might lead to a catastrophe. Earlier in the case of Gastroenteritis, the impact was severe. Thick population, congested dwellings, lack of isolation facilities and the abandoned hospitals in the tea gardens add to the woes. A formidable step needs to be taken urgently. I am not sure that the virus won’t spread in Cinnamara as positive people were allowed to go home. If this is repeated in other gardens then the situation shall go out of hands. I have informed the Deputy Commissioner of Jorhat and the Joint Director of health too. I would appeal to the health minister of the state to initiate special measures in this regard. Most of the hospitals in the tea garden do not have COVID care facilities. It’s the responsibility of the state government, I am not satisfied with the COVID care facilities in any of the tea gardens of Assam” says Kamakhya Prasad Tassa, BJP MP from Jorhat.
Tea industry stakeholders to seek relaxation in state’s order to engage workforce in shift
10 May The Telegraph Online
Tea industry stakeholders on Monday, in a virtual meeting with senior labour department officials, will seek relaxation in the state’s order to engage half the usual workforce in a shift. After chief minister Mamata Banerjee assumed office for the third time recently, she announced that in the tea industry, only 50 per cent of the usual workforce would be allowed to work per shift as a safeguard against crowding amid the pandemic. The announcement came as a jolt for tea companies and over three lakh workers in the sector.“Because of this restriction, each tea estate is incurring production loss. From May to August, yield at plantations is higher, so is production. If gardens work with 50 per cent capacity during this crucial time, production will be hit,” said Amritangshu Chakraborty, principal adviser to the Indian Tea Planters’ Association. A senior planter in Siliguri said around 65 per cent of the total tea production happens during these months. “We believe the state government officials will realise that unlike other industries, Covid safety protocols can be easily adhered to in the tea sector (because of large, open gardens). We can maintain social distancing and other safety measures like we did last year. That is why the number of Covid cases are low in the tea sector,” he said… A trade union leader in the Dooars said the curb also halved the income of workers.“In a garden, wages are distributed after every 12 days. Earlier, a worker got wages for all these days but now that only half of them can be put to work at a time, they are getting six days’ wages. In the tea industry, no work, no pay is the usual practice,” he said.
See also: Plea seeks relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions for tea plantations near urban areas in Assam
VAHDAM® India launches Covid relief fund with Doctors For You
5 May. India Retailing
Digitally native global wellness brand VAHDAM® India, has partnered with the non-profit organization, Doctors For You, to crowdfund a global COVID EMERGENCY RELIEF FUND on the crowdfunding platform, Ketto, that will help facilitate increased aid and relief efforts in several Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities across India.The proceeds of this fund will be used to set up more temporary COVID treatment facilities, get more supply of oxygen cylinders and oxygen concentrators for critical cases, facilitate rapid vaccination programs, and help provide prescribed medication to people in dire need. Doctors For You have been working on COVID-19 aid since March 2020 in more than 18 states across India. To kickstart this fundraiser, VAHDAM®India has donated US$ 50,000 to help start the process of aid. All proceeds will be donated directly to the foundation… In 2020, VAHDAM® India had launched a Tea Estate Workers Relief Fund in partnership with CRY to provide relief at tea estates, when the pandemic had just hit the nation. In addition, they had donated over $300,000 worth of teas to frontline medical workers in the United States and India, and had also distributed Family Ration Packs, hygiene kits and sanitisers to over 1100 tea growers’ families.
[Mombasa] Tea auction prices depressed below 2–dollar mark
May 8. The Star
Average tea prices at the weekly Mombasa auction have remained below the preferred 2-dollar mark for nine weeks running, amid increased global production of the commodity. This week, the commodity averaged $1.83 (Sh195.22 ) a kilo at the auction which is one of the largest in the world where teas from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are traded. The price is a drop from last week’s $1.85 (Sh197.36 ) even as volumes traded dropped… Last month, Kenya Tea Development Agency noted persistent high production and a global oversupply, which it said had pushed down the average tea prices for its managed factories. The low prices so far signal low earnings for farmers, who last year were cushioned by a stronger dollar against the shillings as prices remained low… Last year, average tea auction prices fell by six per cent compared to the previous year, blamed on the high production and a depressed market occasioned by the pandemic.
A cup of regular tea has never been this expensive in India, thanks to kooky weather
20 May. Business Insider India
Manoj Jallan, former chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association (NETA), described the current drought as the worst in 30 years….Business is not entirely bad for the companies. Tata Consumer Products, which sells Tata Tea among other brands, saw the beverage segment (including coffee) grow 59.6% by revenue, and 23% by volume, in Jan-March 2021. Tea consumption in India was already on the rise before work-from-home, forced by the pandemic, allowed people to have more cuppas each day.However, overall operating profit margin for the company shrank nearly 10% and the primary contributor was the rising cost of buying tea from the estates. Hiking retail prices, cutting employee cost and marketing spends was not enough to protect the bottom line from shrinking…But that’s just the story of the three months ending March 2021. The business has been booming for Tata Consumer Products, whose revenue has grown 1.6 times and net profit is up nearly two and a half times over the last three financial years.The tea sellers at Tata Group and HUL are using this period to remain competitive and capture as much of the market as possible. …the current inflation in tea prices could be a bigger jolt for smaller players as well as the million-plus people working in the tea gardens. Several hundred workers in many tea gardens under at least 15 districts have been infected by the Coronavirus, IANS reported. The Indian summer is the peak harvest and loss of production may also mean loss of wages along with a rise in cost of healthcare.
Smallholder Tea Farmers To Own Direct Shareholding In KTDA Holdings PLC
23 May. Capital Business
Individual smallholder tea farmers affiliated with the Kenya Tea Development Agency Holdings will now own direct shareholding of the company alongside their respective 54 Tea Factory Companies, further cementing their ownership and proprietorship in the organization. The group through a statement said the move follows the resolutions of the KTDA Holdings shareholders, at a Special General Meeting (SGM)held in April this year, to amend the company’s Articles of Association. This will enable the allotment of the company’s shares to individual farmers under a new category of shareholders known as “Tea Farmers. “Each of the 54 Tea Factory Companies, through their respective portions of their 5millionbonus share issues assigned their shares to their tea farmers, completing the passage to having the tea farmers become direct owners in KTDA Holdings PLC,” reads the statement.
Mount Kenya tea farmers reject KTDA’s 5m shares
27 May. Business Daily
Tea farmers in Mt Kenya region have rejected the offer by Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) for allotment of five million shares, terming it a “token” that was meant to hoodwink them and scuttle the agency’s takeover by recently elected directors. The agency said during a Special General Meeting on April 30, directors amended KTDA Holdings PLC Articles of Association to allow for allotment of 24 million shares to factories while farmers would get five million shares under a new category of shareholders known as “Tea Farmers”. The allocation of shares will be based on tea leaf supplied between July 1 2019 and June 30 2020, KTDA said in a statement. The changes were instituted even as farmers were electing new directors amid investigations by the government over alleged abuse of office by the agency’s management. Currently, there is a tussle over takeover of factories by new directors with KTDA management insisting the elections were held against a court order.
[Bangladesh] Tea producers seek wheat subsidy for workers
19 May. The Financial Express
The apex trade body of tea producers has requested the government to continue allocation of wheat at subsidised rate for labourers of the pandemic-hit tea industry, sources said. The Bangladesh Tea Association (BTA) has recently written to food ministry for continuation of the facility in the next fiscal budget. The government has given an allocation of 1,800 tonnes of wheat at a rate of Tk 14 per kilogram for the sector in the current fiscal year. Tea producers distribute wheat at Tk 2.0 per kg to their workers and give Tk 14.50 in subsidy, BTA chairman M Shah Alam told the FE on Tuesday. Currently, the price of tea is unstable. The demand for the locally produced tea in the international market is relatively low. On the other hand, the prices of tea-producing ingredients have been increasing gradually. Workers’ wages increased 28.43 per cent according to a bilateral agreement signed on February 25, 2021. The prices of gas, electricity, pesticide and other related materials have also been doubled. For this, tea production costs have increased significantly, industry insiders said….Covid-19 has put a negative impact on the tea sector. Cash flow and financial capacity of the industry have also declined, they added. As a result, they said, it was tough for the sector to continue production, pay wages, collect capital and maintain jobs. In the circumstances, it is thus difficult to provide subsidy at higher rate by tea garden owners. It is also hard to collect required food at a time from the local market, according to the insiders. The tea sector is a prioritised industrial sector under the National Industrial Policy-2016.
International Tea Day
21 May. FAO website
The first observance of the International Tea Day was celebrated in a virtual event that brought together the world’s top tea exporting and importing countries as well as major producing countries where tea cultivation is an important source of revenues. Watch here the recording of the celebration.
- Tea production and processing represent a source of livelihoods for millions of families, including millions in least developed countries.
- Tea export earnings help to finance food import bills, supporting the economies of major tea-producing countries.
- The specific agro-ecological conditions where tea thrives occur in areas which are highly vulnerable to climate change.
- Global trade in 2020 was affected by logistics issues and measures imposed to contain COVID-19.
- Increasing in-home consumption of tea more than offset declining out-of-home consumption in many instances. During the first weeks of lockdown, in home tea sales surged, increasing by 75 percent in some consuming countries.
- In order to ensure benefits for both people and the environment, the tea value chain must be sustainable at all stages, from field to cup.
Chinese slope technology to boost Pakistan tea plantation
31 May. The News International
“The biggest challenges that Pakistan tea industry faces is that the price of fresh tea leaves is too low compared with other countries,” said Dr. Abdul Waheed, Director of National Tea and High-Value Crops Research Institute” Abdul thinks that Pakistan should make a special area for tea planting. “All the countries that have grown tea like Kenya, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Brondi or other countries have fixed a special area for tea. In Kenya, they called the army to protect that land… “Right now, the tea produced in our country is not enough for the domestic requirement. If we establish a Tea Board, we can use the forest and hilly areas for growing tea.” Naeem Ahmed, Assistant Technical Officer suggested. “Government should get involved in the process of commercialization and makes policies… “China is a huge country that exports tea and it has more experience. If there can be a collaboration at the government level or some Ministry like Ministry of Agriculture and Food, we can get machinery and experience from them.”
Unilever Nigeria Plc announced on Friday that its Board of Directors had approved the steps required to implement the separation of its tea business in Nigeria.
15 May. Punch Nigeria
The approval on April 30, 2021 followed the announcement made on Feb. 25 about Unilever Nigeria’s planned separation of its tea business as part of the global separation, according to a statement obtained from the Nigerian Exchange Limited. The company noted that on 23 July 2020, following the completion of a strategic review, Unilever Plc announced its intention to separate its global tea business, including the retail and food solutions businesses, plantations, T2 and Pukka. It said, “Subject to approval by the company’s shareholders and any regulatory approvals, the Nigeria Tea Business will be transferred to a newly incorporated tea company in Nigeria (New TeaCo), held under a newly incorporated tea holding company to create a dedicated tea group within the Unilever Group (TeaCo Group). “The assets being transferred by Unilever Nigeria Plc to New TeaCo include production assets and other tangible assets used exclusively in relation to the tea business; distribution rights to tea products in Nigeria and export markets; and locally owned unregistered intellectual property rights.”
China approves 2,473 geographical indication products
8 May China.org.cn
China has approved 2,473 geographical indication (GI) products and seen 6,209 GI trademarks registered as of the end of March, according to the National Intellectual Property Administration (NIPA). In the first quarter of 2021, more than 1,400 enterprises were granted permission to use the GIs, up 669 percent year on year. As a type of intellectual property that indicates the geographical origin, reputation and other characteristics of a product, GI is important for enhancing the added value of products, protecting consumer interests and preserving traditional cultural heritage.
[South Africa]Moves to sweeten Mukumbani Tea Estate
4 May. Maverick Citizen
In the mid-morning sunshine they are hard at work harvesting tea leaves to be processed at the nearby Mukumbani Tea Factory below the picturesque plantation. This is the home of Midi Tea, grown in the lush valleys of Venda in Limpopo. In another time the plantation, which was established under the Venda Development Corporation, employed as many as 2,000 workers. But changing business and political dynamics have seen the workforce reduced to 231, only 80 of whom are farmworkers. Then, the workforce covered an area of 1,057 hectares. It has been reduced to 70 hectares.But plans are in place to return the plantation to its former glory. Leo Gama, spokesperson for the Limpopo Economic Development Agency, which manages the tea estate, says they need a cash injection of up to R10-million to achieve this… The revival of the estate could be a major boost for the rural Mukumbani community, especially with the unemployment rate in South Africa hitting a record 30.8%, described by Statistics SA as the highest since 2008.
[India] Workers’ collective successfully ran tea garden, why ‘illegal’ takeover?: Labour rights group
3 May. Counterview
A West Bengal tea workers’ organisation, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), has opposed an agreement recently signed between trade unions and the Merico Agro Industries Limited to “re-open” the Birpara Tea Garden in the Jateswar Division of West Bengal allegedly against the will of the tea leave pluckers, who had formed a collective to run the closed tea garden since September 2019… Birpara tea garden was abandoned in 2015, to be re-opened in 2017 and then again abandoned by the Duncans Industries Ltd. In September 2019, 1,300 workers of Jateshwar Division of Birpara garden made a collective of their own to run 405 acres of the garden. Since then, the workers have received Rs. 10 per kg for plucking leaves, earning Rs 250-300 per day during the season. The collective started saving successfully right from September 2019. Each received an average of Rs. 11,280 as bonus from the surplus savings on October 7, 2020. They have also received money for their paid leave (“saal chutti”) during the off season.Workers feel the past year has been better for them than even when Duncans was managing the garden. The workers are also convinced that while employers may come and go, workers would be dependent on the tea bushes for generations to come. Hence it was their responsibility to maintain and safeguard these bushes, shade trees and other garden properties. It is these responsible workers who have been called thieves.
[Kenya] New tea directors receive cold reception as issues of gender disparity emerge
5 May. The Standard
The newly-elected Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA) directors under the tea reforms reported to their various factories on Monday to cold receptions as senior officials were conspicuously missing…But even as the new directors get into office, gender equality in the newly-enacted tea regulations has become an issue of concern as it emerged that men were dominating in the ongoing election of directors in Kisii and Nyamira.Monica Oluoch from Nyansiongo Tea Factory and Janet Nyambane from Tombe Tea Factory were the only female directors who were entrusted with leadership positions whose main role is to represent farmers in the business of tea farming. Kennedy Kaburi, the Gusii branch of Kenya Tea Growers Association chairman, said even without proper gender representation, the elections under the new laws were highly integral. “We did not have our women coming out strongly to vie for the seats. In this sense, all farmers, irrespective of the gender, are happy that the people they chose to represent them can articulate their concerns as the government seeks to transform the tea industry,” Kaburi said…Ms Oluoch said: “The gender disparity also cuts across political seats where women are always muzzled by men. Women should rise to the occasion and fight for their space.”
INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS AND WAGES
[Bangladesh] Ensure living wage, education for tea workers
22 May. New Age Bangladesh
Tea garden workers’ leaders and rights activists at a dialogue on Friday asked the government and garden owners to ensure living wage for workers for the betterment of the sector. Society for Environment and Human Development organised the online discussion marking International Tea Day.The speakers also demanded liveable housing, social protection and education for workers. ‘Tea garden workers are tied to the tea gardens. They are in a very sorry state and socially excluded. Education can play a significant role in gradually freeing them,’ said economist Wahiduddin Mahmud as the chief guest in the dialogue on ‘Protection of Tea Workers: Challenges and Accountability of Actors.’ Power and Participation Research Centre executive chairman Hossain Zillur Rahman presided over the programme. Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union general secretary Ram Bhajan Kairi alleged that the garden owners were not giving wages and facilities to the workers according to the law. He also complained laws were formed without consulting workers and the process makes a scope for infringing the rights of the workers. SEHD director Philip Gain presented the keynote paper titled ‘Protection of Tea Workers: Challenges and Accountability’ which focused on the poor condition of the over 1.4 lakh tea garden workers. He showed the non-compliance of garden rules, discrimination among workers, inequality and violence against women, violation of health rights and education and landlessness condition of the workers and their their social protection. Hossain Zillur Rahman suggested that economists should get involved in calculation of what the tea workers actually get.
Assam government announces wage hike for tea garden labourers
28 May. Indian Express
The Assam government on Friday announced an increase of Rs 38 in the wage of tea garden labourers, an issue which had grabbed attention during the recently held assembly elections in the state. “With this hike the tea garden workers in Brahmaputra Valley would get Rs. 205 in place of existing Rs. 167 and tea garden workers of Barak Valley would get Rs 183 in place of existing Rs. 145,” an official press statement from the office of Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said. Tea garden workers will get the increased wage with retrospective effect from February 23, the statement added.“It may be noted that earlier the government hiked the daily wage to Rs. 217. However, the decision could not be implemented following court order. Therefore, the government, after threadbare discussion with the tea bodies following the demands of the tea workers, decided to hike the daily wage to Rs. 205 and Rs. 183. True to the government’s commitment and for the welfare of the tea garden workers, the government would raise the remaining Rs. 12 after initiating consultation with stakeholders and exuded confidence that an acceptable solution will be found out very soon.”Tea gardens and their workers — a most marginalised community in the state, marked by economic backwardness, poor health conditions and low literacy rates — were at the centre of this year’s election campaign, holding influence over at least 35 assembly seats across both the Brahmaputra and Barak valley regions of the state. BIn the tenure of the previous BJP-led state government, the community had been the focus of several financial, educational and health welfare schemes. However, the Congress had argued that the BJP’s promise to increase workers’ wages to Rs 351 before coming to power in 2016 failed.
Assam rolls back daily wage hike for tea plantation workers
29 May. The Economic Times
The BJP-led government in Assam has withdrawn a February notification that increased the daily wages of plantation workers by Rs 50, and announced the setting up of a new committee for fixing the minimum wage. The minimum wage before the Rs 50 interim hike was Rs 167 a day. On Friday, BJP MP Pallab Lochan Das told the media that the workers would get Rs 205 a day until the Gauhati High Court decided on a petition before it, as per the decision at a meeting that chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma held with tea workers’ union and the planters body.In its May 26 order withdrawing the Rs 50 hike, the state labour department had noted the petition filed by tea estates in the high court challenging the interim wage hike. As per rules, giving an interim hike requires the setting up of committees and subcommittees and taking their advice, the labour department said, adding that this process was “was inadvertently skipped”.
Unilever to support “living wage” and diverse suppliers
17 May. Corporate Knights
In January…Unilever announced a host of bold commitments aimed at building a more equitable and inclusive society. Among its initiatives:
- ensuring that everyone who directly provides goods and services to Unilever earns “at least a living wage or income” by 2030;
- spending US$3 billion annually, by 2025, with suppliers owned and managed by people from under-represented groups;
- helping five million small and medium-sized businesses grow through access to skills, finance and technology, by 2025; and
- training 10 million young people to prepare them for job opportunities, by 2030.
…Unilever said it already pays its employees at least a living wage, but now “we want to secure the same for more people beyond our workforce, specifically focusing on the most vulnerable workers in manufacturing and agriculture. We’ll work with our suppliers, other businesses, governments and NGOs to create system-wide change and encourage the global adoption of living-wage practices.” More than 630 million workers worldwide did not earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty in 2019. The company believes a living wage should cover food, housing, education, healthcare, transportation, clothing, and unexpected emergencies. With a global platform, 65,000 direct suppliers, and revenues of US$78 billion a year, Unilever has the potential to lift millions out of poverty.
Sri Lankan estate workers protest against higher workloads and wage cuts
15 May. World Socialist Web Site
Demonstrations involving hundreds of workers have erupted at several tea estates in recent weeks against increased daily productivity demands and wage cuts. In January, the Rajapakse government ordered plantation companies to pay a 1,000-rupee ($US5) daily wage (a 900-rupee basic payment plus 100-rupee allowance) to tea and rubber estate workers, starting from April. The government’s announcement was in order to dissipate the rising anger of plantation workers over their poverty-level wages.Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) that manage the Sri Lankan estates opposed the increase and went to the courts to challenge the government’s decision. Conscious of the mass opposition of plantation workers, the appeal court approved the government pay directive. The plantation unions, particularly the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), falsely promoted the wage rise as a major victory for workers. The CWC is part of the Rajapakse government and the union’s leader, Jeevan Thondaman, is a cabinet minister. The RPCs have reacted to the court decision by attempting to drive up production to compensate for the pay increase and have introduced other measures to reduce workers’ earnings. On May 10, hundreds of workers at the Murray and Brunswick Estates, which are controlled by the Maskeliya Plantation Company, and the upper division of the Welioya Estate, which is owned by the Hatton Plantation Company, protested against increased work targets and management refusals to pay the 1,000-rupee daily wage. About 700 workers from Murray Estate demonstrated over the company’s failure to pay the new wage rates in April and against the new productivity targets. Management is demanding that the daily tea plucking target of 18 kilos be increased by 2 kilos to pay the 1,000-rupee wage.
May Day: ‘No way out of tea estates,’ housing woes, low wages compel workers from Assam tea gardens to migrate
1 May. Two Circles Net
“If I do not work in the bagan, I will not get a house to stay. How can I then provide shelter to my family? Working here is a compulsion for us,” Rijina continued.,..While staying in the tea estates is a compulsion for Rijina, many of her male counterparts have already taken up migration as their only means to own a house. Three years ago, 23-year-old Bandhan Tanti left Chikonmati Tea Estate for Maharashtra because of the low wages. “I can never afford to build a house with the earnings that are given in tea gardens. It is so difficult to make a day’s living with that earning, especially if anyone falls ill. So going out to earn more money to build a house for my family is the main objective behind my migration.”…“I would pick up any work outside the bagan, as long as it pays me well. The pay here in bagan is way too low than the daily wages of Rs 350 paid in the whole area. I have no intention of working in the bagan,” he said…The numbers of quarters have not increased compared to the increase of population in the tea gardens. In one labour quarter, sometimes, two families are accommodated. Without basic hygienic facilities, it becomes difficult for them to stay in the house also.”
[India] A sustainable brew that cheers
30 May. The Hindu – Business Line
Frequent variations in temperature and precipitation, cyclonic storms and floods put tea under risk. Climate change impacts its quality, flavour, chemical composition, production, and yield. Tea is also the livelihood of thousands of plantation workers, and a source of income for small and marginal growers. Large tea estates in the north-eastern and southern states are dependent on it. It is now agreed that for Indian tea to flourish, growers must shift to organic and sustainable farming for pest-free and resilient crops. They must also go in for eco-friendly manufacturing and plastic-free packaging. This alone will help the industry cater to growing domestic demand and enable Indian brands to hold on to their prime position in the global market. To secure the health of their produce, tea manufacturers have come together to help growers. The Tatas, along with others in the industry, has been working closely with growers for the last seven years to introduce a host of eco-friendly practices. This is in keeping with consumer demand. Tea drinkers now prefer sources that are hundred per cent sustainable. They look for certification that assures ethical supply chains and fair-trade practices. “We work with Rainforest Alliance (RFA) and Trustea. Both these organisations have the expertise to audit and certify tea for its sustainability and fair-trade practices. RFA does it for the international markets, while Trustea has been formed for the Indian market,” says Anurag Priyadarshi, Director (Sustainability) of Tata Consumer Products (TCP), the integrated food and beverage company that markets both Tetley and Tata Tea.
[Sri Lanka] Heading towards a disaster
9 May. The Sunday Times
It’s once again troubled times for Sri Lanka’s agriculture, as the decision by the government was without any consultations with key stakeholders. While there is general agreement that organic farming is the future, implementing decisions suddenly without considering the short-term and long-term ramifications would, as the above scientist said, “lead to a famine”… For the country’s main export crop, tea it’s a double whammy after the glyphosate debacle in 2015. Here are the words of a tea expert on this issue: “The unscientific, illogical and unwise banning of the glyphosate weedicide had a significant direct impact on all crop production, crop yields, land productivity, labour productivity, quality of the food crops, impacting on the earning capacity and the livelihoods of agricultural sector workers. Sri Lanka has yet not recovered fully from the consequences of the banning of glyphosate and lost some premier export markets like Japan, for instance.”.. Asked for his views on organic farming, he said natural organic farming methods do not provide sufficient food crops to feed the population. Intensive crop production with judicious and scientifically recommended application of fertiliser, chemicals and weedicides is required for commercial scale crop production, he said, adding: “Without fertiliser inputs only the marginal crop of a plant according to the natural capacity can be produced, which is totally inadequate for food/crop production.” He cited an example where a tea estate had transformed to organic cultivation only to see its production drop by 60 per cent.
Trouble brewing for British cuppa as climate change threatens tea production
10 May. Evening Standard
The UK and Ireland drink more tea per person than any other countries in the world, with Kenya alone producing half the black tea drunk in the UK. But a report from Christian Aid warns that Kenya, the world’s biggest exporter of black tea, faces more erratic rainfall, making floods and droughts more common, and rising temperatures. Research suggests climate change is going to slash optimal conditions for tea production in Kenya by a quarter (26%) by 2050, and areas with only average growing conditions will see production fall by 39% by mid-century.Other major tea-producing countries including India, Sri Lanka and China, the world’s largest producer whose green tea is growing in popularity in the UK, also face rising temperatures and new weather extremes, the report said…
Big British tea brands and the Fairtrade Foundation have also raised concerns about the impact climate change is having on tea growers and the future of production. The warning comes as the UK prepares to host the G7 meeting of major economies next month – where Boris Johnson has said climate, and finance for poor countries to cope with global warming, will be centre stage – and key UN Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow in November… Richard Koskei, 72, a tea farmer from Kericho in Kenya’s Western Highlands, said: “We are proud that the tea that we grow here is the best in the world but climate change poses a real threat to us. “We cannot predict seasons anymore, temperatures are rising, rainfall is more erratic, more often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts which was not the case in the past. “If this continues then it will make growing tea much harder and life for us extremely difficult.”
He added: “Farmers like us are bearing the brunt of this crisis but we aren’t the ones that have caused it.” “We small-scale farmers cannot fix this problem ourselves. This needs a joint effort from developed countries who enjoy our tea abroad,” he urged, as he called on richer countries to cut their emissions. Fiachra Moloney, of PG Tips maker Unilever said: “The climate crisis affects people all over the world. In East Africa where so much of our tea comes from, climate change is putting the livelihoods of the people who grow tea for us at risk. As Unilever, we call on governments to bring forward ambitious climate targets, policies and plans ahead of Cop26 that will help us all work together to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5C.”
What’s the Tea? Brewing a More Sustainable Cuppa
13 May Earth911
The UN FAO launched a project in Kenya last year to support the production of carbon-neutral tea. Another initiative, Tea2030 crosses all sectors of tea production. But for now, most tea is grown on chemical-intensive farms that contribute to deforestation, erosion, and pesticide contamination. Monoculture farms damage soil health and make plants more susceptible to disease, leading to more intensive use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer. Half of the 62 teas tested by the FDA in a 2015 study contained pesticide residues. Using biological controls instead of fumigants against soil nematodes; site-specific fertilization plans or organic farming; and the introduction of shade trees to plantations are all methods for reducing the impact of tea cultivation.
Covid-19 pandemic and severe drought endanger India’s tea harvest
17 May Market Research Telecast
…crops are depleted by unstable weather patterns associated with climate change, such as severe droughts affecting the state of Assam and other territories in northeast India. “You just have to put your hands on the ground and collect dust. By now it is usually full of lumps and mud, “laments Nazlana Ahmed, who runs a plantation near the city of Dibrugarh (Assam). The combination of these spankings [sic] has made Indian tea prices skyrocket This benefits China, Kenya and Sri Lanka, among other large suppliers of the product, which have increased their exports globally.