In some countries smallholder farmers supply a large proportion of tea to processing factories. However, many smallholders struggle to make a good living due to leaf quality issues, poor productivity, and a poor understanding of western market requirements. Although in some countries the level of support that smallholders receive from tea processing factories is good, such as in Kenya, other countries do not have such good support systems in place.
About the project
To tackle these issues ETP has entered a three-year partnership with the Dutch Government Funded Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH). The project is helping 1,000 smallholders from 3 smallholder cooperatives based in West Java and West Sumatra.
At the start of the project ETP and consultants from the Gambung Research Institute of Tea and Chinchona (GRITC) conducted a diagnostic assessment and identified a number of issues:
- Inferior leaf quality as a result of poor farming and technical knowledge
- Low productivity due to age and density of tea bushes (gaps that require filling)
- Distance and time it takes to transport leaf to tea processing factories in good condition
- Badly organised farm cooperatives leading to inefficiencies and negotiating position
- Limited or no access to finance for input materials (e.g. fertilisers and new tea bushes)
ETP is now working with a number of specialist partners to overcome these challenges.
Better practice farming
For most smallholders, the greatest potential to improve their income is through implementing better farming practices. Agronomist from GRITC worked with the smallholder groups the most effective ways of improving bush productivity. Using demonstration plots and lead farmers the training covers tea bush management including pruning and plucking techniques, fertiliser application and integrated pest management.
In Sumatra Dushy Perera, Regional Manager Sri Lanka, is supervising the development of a sustainable tea bush nursery that will supply 500,000 young tea bushes to the smallholders each year. These will be used to replace older bushes and for filling in empty gaps to increase bush density and overall productivity. Ultimately this will lead to bigger harvests and will raise incomes.
Prior to the project many smallholder were unable to invest in their farms or pay for input materials due to restrictive up-front costs. Now through the Rabobank Foundation smallholders are able to access micro finance on credit and pay for input materials as and when they’re require, a key driver in increasing productivity.
In addition the Rabobank Foundation also provides training on management and organisational skills, and this has already led to a practical development whereby factories pay smallholders on a daily basis for their tea rather than every two weeks.
In order to supply the export market producers (including smallholders) have to increasingly meet certain social and environmental standards as well as quality issues. To help ETP and Rainforest Alliance have developed materials and run workshops that cover these social and environmental standards to help the smallholders reach the required level.
Throughout the project the Indonesian Tea Board has been highly supportive has continually recommended this multi-dimensioned approach within the Ministry of Agriculture. This in turn has led to the Indonesian Government committing $250,000 to support farmers in another area using the demonstration plot methodology.
ETP is also sharing the good practice management farming developed in this project with other regions.