Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, with 67% of the population living in what the World Bank defines as extreme poverty. Access to healthcare and education is limited, and only 66% of people over 15 years old can read. In Malawi there are over 18,000 small-scale tea farmers, many of whom need our support.
The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) runs a full range of interlinking programmes to help tea farmers in Malawi to change their lives for the better. Together with the Tea Association of Malawi (TAML), Oxfam, IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative), and GIZ (German Development Agency), we’re leading a partnership to deliver life-changing integrated programmes.
By increasing their tea farming knowledge, income and savings opportunities as well as encouraging farmers to develop the latest entrepreneurial business skills, we are helping to create a more competitive and more sustainable Malawian tea industry.
It’s not just effective farming approaches that are covered, we also take this opportunity to train tea farmers on key life skills such as how to eat more healthily and improve diets within their whole community.
This is fundamental in improving farmers and their families’ lives as malnutrition is such a serious concern in Malawi. The figures speak for themselves and effect young and old alike. For example, 60% of adults suffer from under-nutrition. The consequences of poor nutrition are numerous; poor health can curb a farmer’s productivity, limiting how much they can earn.
Here are a few highlights of our work, which show how ETP is actively changing farmers’ lives for the better.
Farmer Field Schools
ETP runs year-long training schools for tea farmers, where they learn how to improve their tea growing skills. The aim is for farmers to understand how to grow more, and better quality, tea so that they can earn more money. Farmers learn techniques to become more resilient to climate change and how to grow other crops, which they can then sell on or eat themselves.
Tea farmer Loveness never managed to complete school. She has three young children and attends a Farmer Field School. She’s seen a big increase in income thanks to the training, and the amount she makes a month has nearly doubled. This has been life-changing for Loveness, who says, “I adopted my niece when my sister died. I could afford to do this because of the extra money I am earning since Farmer Field School”. She can now pay for all her daughters to go to school and wants her girls to be “the first in the family to finish secondary school”.
Tea farmer, Esnart is part of the ETP tree nursery programme in Malawi, which supports reforestation by planting trees. Her grandson Mathew is inspired by this, and notes that “even though I am young, I have seen a great change. There were some trees on the mountain when I was a child… It will be much worse in 10 or 20 years time. (But I hope) we will choose to reforest the mountain instead”.
Village Savings and Loans Scheme
ETP has set up a lending and saving scheme to help tea farmers, who are largely cut off from the banking sector, with access to badly needed credit. The schemes also function as a savings deposit, with money increasing over time. As well as providing for pressing household needs, the loans and savings can be used to invest in a new business away from tea.
Rhoda is a member of a village savings and loans scheme and has been saving to build her house. She says: “I started building this house in 2014. I joined the scheme in 2016. I used a loan to buy 60 bags of cement to finish off my house. I grew up in a small house with a grass thatched roof, so I am very proud of this house”.
She has also been able to use her savings to purchase a fridge, which she is using to run her own drinks business. With the extra income from selling drinks she plans to purchase more resources to set up future ventures.
ETP offers hands on training for tea farmers on how to set up their own business. Entrepreneurship is encouraged, with training in financial management and other practical business skills.
Inspired by the training she’s taken part in with ETP and the subsequent boost in income, Rebecca hopes to become a chef and open her own restaurant with the extra money she now makes from her tea crop.
She’s also learnt how to provide balanced meals for her family. She says: “We learnt that to be healthy, you need to eat six food groups – protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, fruit, vegetables and fats. If you follow this diet, you will feel great. You’ll get vitamins from green vegetables, you won’t get anaemia and you’ll have more energy”.
When offering tea farmers practical training, ETP also takes the opportunity to share information about healthy diets. Farmers develop the knowledge and skills to adopt a better diet and pass their own learning on to their children.
The biggest fans of Edna’s newly developed cooking skills are her two sons. They can’t get enough of the nourishing sweet potato fritters she’s learnt to make, and Edna’s noticed a real improvement in their health since introducing a more balanced diet. She says, “I can really see the change in my youngest child. He used to get sick a lot and now he doesn’t”.
Edna has taken part in the Farmer Field School programme and so now grows a variety of crops. She invests her increased income in the village savings and loans scheme.
She says: “I plan to save towards my children’s education. The money will accumulate, and it should be enough for their secondary education. I am hopeful that they will get well-paid jobs. One wants to be a driver and the other wants to be a pilot”.
To learn more about Farmer Field Schools and other key initiatives ETP runs in Malawi click here.
All of this work is part of a life-changing programme called the Malawi Tea 2020 programme, which is helping to create a more competitive and sustainable Malawian Tea Industry. You can find out more about this ground-breaking initiative and who is involved here.
Photo credits: All photos Andy Hall