Five per cent of global tea production originates from Sri Lanka, where the tea industry employs nearly one million people and contributes $1.5 billion to the country’s economy.
The Ethical Tea Partnership is working with The Republic of Tea in Sri Lanka to improve the nutrition and health of women, men and children on tea estates. We work with the PALM foundation, a community development organisation with expertise in delivering nutrition programmes for communities in Sri Lanka.
Poor diets and malnutrition are a big concern on tea estates with 35% of children below the age of five reported as being under-developed. Mothers also tend to be under weight and anaemia rates are high due to poor nutrition.
That’s why in the first year of our programme we’ve worked with over 11, 000 people to:
- Improve women’s health through more varied diets
- Provide training on mother and child nutrition
- Establish community kitchens for tea estate residents and workers giving them access to nutritious affordable food
- Construct and repair toilets
We are working with tea communities to set up kitchen gardens. We have provided training and seeds to tea workers to enable them to set up their own kitchen gardens on their plots at home. Since the start of the programme, we have seen the number of people setting up their own kitchen gardens increase by 35%. Nearly 70% of those taking part in our programme who have garden plots have now established their own kitchen gardens at home.
Seethaiama in her kitchen garden . She says: “I’ve been gardening for about two years now. It’s not too hard and we save money because we don’t need to buy vegetables. This is healthier … My family likes this new way of cooking.”
Community kitchens are an innovative new initiative, the first of their kind to offer safe, nutritious meals to tea workers at a low cost. For the first time, these kitchens are located within the grounds of the tea estates so that they are easier for workers to access.
New ways of working and innovation
In Sri Lanka, there is a shortage of tea workers because there are increasing opportunities to secure better incomes outside the tea industry.
This is leading to radical changes in the way some tea companies are organising their operations as they seek to ensure that workers have more ownership and control over their work and improved incomes.
One of the ways to help tea workers to improve their incomes is through the creation of a new way of working called the ‘out grower’ model.
The model is being trialled by estates in Sri Lanka and it allows employees to continue working on tea estates whilst also having control over plots of tea land. Employees have responsibility for 1500 – 2000 tea bushes and can sell the leaf back to the estate to make an additional income. This extra income can really help them to meet their key needs and go towards other important areas such as their children’s education.
The Ethical Tea Partnership has been training workers on how to improve the output on their own plots of land through farmer field school programmes, which help them to maximise their additional income.
Devadasan has been taking part in the ‘out grower model’ and with the extra income from his plot of land has been able to send his son to university.
“I use the money from our plot for my son’s university education. He is studying an arts degree. He wants to become a teacher and I think he might come to work in our area. I hope that some of my daughters will go to university too. I’d like my daughters to become engineers and lawyers.”
As Eranga Egodawele, an estate manager says, the out-grower model is an essential financial incentive to keep workers involved and engaged in the industry.
“The ‘out grower’ model is definitely essential to the future viability of the estates because without it we are not going to improve the number of workers and we are not going to improve their sense of identity…They are basically entrepreneurs.”
Selvamerry has been taking part in the ‘out grower’ model and says that she is now hoping to use the extra income to save for her children’s education.
“I will use the extra money for my kids’ education. When I had some spare recently, I bought gold jewellery. We have a tradition here of ‘saving’ money in jewellery. If we put it in the bank, we might treat it like cash and spend it quickly. But if we buy jewellery, we will definitely think twice before selling it.”
Violetmerry has also been taking part in the ‘out grower model’, which helped provide extra income after her husband was unable to work:
“The ‘out grower’ plot is like our own land, so we will get the benefit of any improvements we make to it. I take care of it every day. I’m in charge, but my family help out too. My husband had an accident and broke his leg, so he hasn’t been able to work for a few months. I had to take time off to look after him, so it is very helpful to have extra income from this.”
Community Empowerment Programme
The Ethical Tea Partnership has also undertaken long-standing work to improve workers’ lives through a collaboration with CARE International on a large-scale Plantation Community Empowerment Programme (PCEP). Through our partnership with CARE International we helped improve living and working conditions on 13 tea estates in Sri Lanka through the implementation of Community Development Forums (CDFs). Building on CARE’s tried and tested approach, CDFs are like ‘mini parliaments’ that bring together workers, management, trade union officials, and community/estate residents to discuss working and living conditions on tea estates.
An independent analysis by the New Economics Foundation found that for every dollar invested in the programme, there was a marked return on investment to workers, to the tea industry, or to the community as a whole. Some of the key outcomes were:
- 90% of workers felt economic and social opportunities had improved
- 25% improvement in workforce productivity and better estate services, e.g. crèches
- Improved worker-management relationships
- Reduced domestic violence and alcoholism
- Improved opportunities for women, including better control of household finances, leadership roles in communities, and better career opportunities