Although tea sector jobs in Malawi are considered good, paying more than the Malawi national average and providing a range of benefits, living standards for tea workers are poor. Smallholder tea farmers in Malawi also struggle to make a decent living from tea – making it hard for them to provide for their families.
How ETP is Helping
The Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme (Malawi Tea 2020) has been developed in response to concerns about low wages and poor living conditions in the Malawi tea sector.
Together with the Tea Association of Malawi (TAML), Oxfam, IDH (the Sustainable Trade Initiative), and GIZ (German Development Agency), we’re leading a coalition of stakeholders from across the entire tea value chain to create a competitive Malawian tea industry where workers earn a living wage and smallholders are thriving.
During the build up to the TEAM UP 2015 tea sustainability conference, all key value chain stakeholders of the Malawi tea industry signed an MoU committing their support to the Malawi Tea 2020 plan, which was officially launched at the conference.
The programme, which is the first of its kind in the tea industry, aims to deliver six key outcomes:
- An industry that is investing in its future and its workforce
- Significant improvement in wages and benefits for workers – supply chain commitment to a living wage by 2020
- Improvements in smallholder farming practices, yields, quality, income, and income diversification
- A healthier, motivated, and productive workforce, with greater opportunities for women
- An improved wage-setting process with greater worker representation
- Sustainable energy use and improved environment
The five-year Roadmap (above) shows the programmes that together will deliver the changes required. After the first year significant progress has already been made in key areas:
- Worker wages: Producers have raised wages several times since the programme started and an evaluation by independent wage experts showed that, despite the high inflation in Malawi, the gap between current wages and living wage has reduced by 20%.
- Wage-setting processes: The first ever collective bargaining agreement in the tea sector was signed, between the Tea Association of Malawi and the Plantation Agricultural Workers Union.
- Nutrition: 18,800 workers are benefitting from improvements in the lunchtime meal provided by estates, which are now fortified with essential minerals and vitamins. In addition, all tea estates are providing fresh vegetables once a week. The fresh vegetables are from the estates own gardens or local markets. Some estates are creating business opportunities for women to engage in growing vegetables on the estate.
- Smallholder farming: Support programmes to improve quality and productivity and farmers’ incomes have been extended, this year reaching almost a fifth of Malawi’s smallholder farmers – 65% of whom are women. 13 smallholder nurseries have been established and over 150,000 new tea plants have been cultivated.
- Community saving: 83 Village Savings and Loans Associations have been established benefitting over 2,000 farming families.
- Competitiveness of the industry: The innovative finance fund to support the industry make investments in its long-term future now stands at €1 million and companies are accelerating replanting with higher quality clones and investment in irrigation.
What the experts say
Living wage experts Richard and Martha Anker, who are part of the programme’s independent wages committee, and carried out the initial living wage benchmark said: “We have seen a noteworthy increase in daily wages, which will make a significant difference in the lives of the tea workers in Malawi. To afford a decent standard of living for a tea worker and family, wages will need to increase further but a significant step forward has been made.”
Rachel Wilshaw, Ethical Trade Manager at Oxfam said: “In 2013, a joint report by Oxfam, Ethical Tea Partnership, and IDH showed that the approximately 50,000 tea pluckers in Malawi were trapped in poverty, despite receiving the legally required wage and some in-kind benefits. Malawi Tea 2020 is a rare coalition of parties that have the collective power to bring about positive change in the industry. We welcome the progress made in the last year on wages, nutrition, and worker representation, particularly in the face of a devastating drought caused by the El Niño effect. Nevertheless, these vulnerable workers need all companies, retailers, buyers, and producers to step up further if a living wage is to become the norm by 2020.”