I have done many new things since I started working at the ETP, but today was the first day I have spent with a Protocol Officer. Tomorrow is an important day for lots of people, including the ETP, as it is the day that the District Leader of Solok will hand over the first new tea clones to smallholders in his area.
Smallholders are a very important part of Indonesian tea production but their livelihoods can be low due to quality and productivity challenges. We have been very fortunate to be able to form a strong partnership with the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and three important Indonesian producers who supply ETP members, to support smallholders improve their tea production. I am visiting all three sites over the next week, starting with the Solok area, where the major productivity challenge is low bush density and the need to replace tea plants damaged by fire.
So that is why I spent this morning in the shadow of the active Gunung Talang volcano (from which the smallholder tea takes its name) with some very focused men from the District Leader’s team who were checking every aspect of tomorrow’s ceremony - from where the cars from his entourage would be parked, to the angle from which the local media would take the pictures, to the quality of the containers that plants would be handed over in.
And what fantastic plants they are. Nothing can quite prepare you for the sight of 500,000 new tea clones, row, upon row, upon row of thriving green plants, all now reaching the 30cm height required to thrive successfully in their new homes.
The amount of work to get this point has been phenomenal. PTPN VI, the organisation that the smallholders supply, assembled an excellent team of committed staff, who created this nursery from scratch - clearing the land, constructing the nursery structure from bamboo, finding the appropriate sub-soil and top-soil, harvesting the seedlings from the mother bushes, maintaining them carefully at the right temperature and keeping them free from pests and disease.
The District Leader’s presence tomorrow is an important part of ensuring the longevity of the tea plants and sustainability of this project. His involvement helps show the importance of looking after these new tea plants to everyone in the area. His administration can provide support to farmers in the long term and help spread good practice. His attendance at the handover ceremony is a public acknowledgement of the importance of tea producers supporting their smallholder supply base – and apparently ensures that everyone involved is treated to a very good breakfast!