Malawi is the world’s seventh poorest country. Although tea sector jobs are considered good, paying more than the Malawi average and providing a range of benefits, living standards for tea workers are still poor. Smallholder tea farmers in Malawi also struggle to make sufficient income to provide well for their families.
How ETP is Helping
The Malawi Tea 2020 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.
Malawi Tea 2020 is a unique partnership, which brings together all the right organisations who can deliver transformational change. The partnership consists of Malawian tea producers, trade unions, international tea buyers, NGOs, and donors:
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
To achieve these outcomes a 5-year Roadmap was developed:
A lot of progress has been made through the Malawi Tea 2020 partnership:
- Worker wages: Producers have raised wages several times since the programme started and they are no longer linked to the low Malawi rural minimum wage. An evaluation by independent wage experts showed that, despite the high inflation in Malawi and difficult macro-economic conditions, the gap between the prevailing wage and living wage has narrowed.
- 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.
- Smallholder farming: Farmers have improved their incomes by increasing their yields and quality. 3,300 smallholder farmers (65% women) have improved their farming and business skills. 45 smallholder nurseries have been established and over 540,000 new tea plants have been cultivated.
- Increased incomes: As well as increased income from improved wages and better farming practices, local savings groups established in tea communities have provided additional income to 3,100 smallholder farmers. The additonal income is used to meet their basic needs and to invest in areas such as housing, medical care, and education.
- Nutrition: 30,000 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 and local markets. Some estates are creating business opportunities for women to engage in growing vegetables on the estate.
- Competitiveness of the industry: Despite a challenging economic context, adverse weather conditions, a strong Kwacha/US dollar exchange rate, tea estates have increased their investments in replanting and irrigation, and in upgrading factories to improve tea quality, investing $6.3 million over the past year. A further $3million investment will come through new innovative finance deals.
- Energy and Environmental Sustainability: A clean cook stoves programme for all tea communities has been established and linked to carbon credits. 10 tree nurseries have also been established for community fuel and nutrition, and forest regeneration. Climate change maps have been produced for tea growing areas that will help farmers adapt to climate change and mitigate the worst effects.
What the experts say
According to living wage experts Richard and Martha Anker who made an independent assessment of progress in October 2017, “The significant progress on wages from the start of the Malawi Tea 2020 programme has been maintained in the face of a difficult macro environment for tea estates”.
Comment by Rachel Wilshaw, Ethical Trade Manager at Oxfam
“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.”