One small cup
makes a big difference
Tea is the second most popular drink in the world, with the livelihoods of approximately 50 million people depending on its production. With climate change, a rapidly growing population and poor agricultural practices threatening the futures of tea farmers, the choices we make in tea aisle have the power to make a big difference.
As the world’s population keeps growing so does the demand for ingredients used in various foods and drinks to be grown (including tea), which is putting a strain on our planet. Unsustainable farming practices can cause soil degradation. As the eroded soil is carried off, with rain or irrigation water, it can contaminate rivers, lakes and coastal areas nearby. The soil losing its growing quality furthermore leads to forestland being burned for the new growing of crops – a process known as ‘deforestation’. The removal of the trees, which absorb water, can lead to excessive flooding, affecting the livelihoods of the people who inhabit the land and furthermore leading to harmful gas emissions being released into Earth’s atmosphere.
In Turkey, the world’s fifth largest tea producer, global warming is already affecting production with the effects of climate change impacting the industry as a whole. In 2014, frost and heavy rain led to a 15% drop in annual income for tea producers and manufacturers. Heavy rain has caused landslides, which have wiped out entire farms, while droughts also restrict the crop’s growth.
We all have the power to make a positive difference through the simple choices we make in our food shopping, including when we shop for tea. 2.5 billion people are involved in smallholder agriculture, globally. This amounts to an estimated 500 million small farms, tea farms included, producing 80% of the food we consume on a global scale. Their livelihoods depend on consistent, successful harvests. "If there's no tea," one woman tea picker tells us, "there's no living."
As one of the world’s largest purchasers of crops (including tea, palm oil and vegetables), we recognise the important role that we have in helping farmers adopt more sustainable farming practices.
As part of our commitment to sourcing 100% of our agricultural ingredients sustainably by 2020, Unilever have partnered with Rainforest Alliance, an international non-profit organisation that works to conserve biodiversity and helps smallholder farmers secure a more sustainable future.
Unilever tea brand, Lipton, has achieved great results through the Rainforest Alliance partnership. Currently, 87% of our Lipton tea bags are Rainforest Alliance Certified™ and we aim to have them all certified by the end of 2015. In the United States, all of our Lipton tea leaves are now sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms. In Turkey, the programme has provided 15,000 tea farmers with one-to-one training in sustainable agricultural practices, helping them to become Rainforest Alliance Certified™.
In Kenya, we have partnered with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), the leading management agency of small-scale tea farmers, to train all 560,000 of their tea growers. Over 300,000 farmers have already taken part in farmer field school training and gained Rainforest Alliance certification™.
Rainforest Alliance certification is much more than just a label. It promotes safer and fairer working conditions, environmental protection and economic sustainability. Many smallholders and farmers, who rely on tea for up to two-thirds of their income, have already seen better yields (as much as up to 35%). This doesn’t just mean more money to spend on food and necessities – it means better health, education and a brighter future for their families. "Those who improve the tea industry are improving people's lives", says Safive Aydogan, a 54-year old tea picker in the Black Sea region in Turkey.
In the fight against climate change, both businesses and people must come together to make a difference. The choices we make in the tea aisle matter more than ever and can make a positive difference to the lives of farmers worldwide with every cup we drink.