How tea farmers are preparing for a changing world

25th September 2019

Farmer Field Schools (FFS) are an important approach used by the Ethical Tea Partnership to support farmers in securing their future incomes, reduce vulnerability to climate impacts and most critically, continue to grow tea. There are currently Farmer Field Schools active in tea estates in Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Sri Lanka

In Kenya alone, some 600,000 smallholder tea farmers have benefitted from learning about climate change issues and how to combat them through the schools.

Credit: Andy Hall

At the schools, tea farmers learn how to grow more, better quality tea, using the most effective and up to date agricultural practices and techniques, increasing how much they earn from their land. They also learn about climate change, its causes and effects as well as mitigation and adaptation practices. Furthermore, the FFS programme trains farmers on adult literacy, income diversification, financial management and nutrition. Ultimately, the training supports farmers to better manage and diversify their incomes to improve theirs and their families’ lives.

Specific training is provided on soil, water and bush management; the use of composting, mulching and shade trees; water harvesting, conservation and drip irrigation; crop diversification and the introduction of kitchen gardens to boost nutrition; access to drought and frost resistant tea clones; fuel wood conservation and access to energy efficient cook stoves.

Attendance at the school is clearly of positive benefit to the farmers. In Rwanda for example, where the number of Farmer Field School graduates has reached over 2,000, with nearly half of these women, the farmers are consistently able to produce greater than average yields thanks to the techniques they have learned. Many groups are inspired to continue their activities after graduating too, with one group grafting 1,000 avocados trees after the course, enabling them to earn an estimated 500 RWF (43p) per avocado.

This Climate Week, we take a closer look at three approaches that are being taught to farmers to help them adapt to the risks presented by climate change – planting tea clones, income diversification and the use of cookstoves.

Credit: Andy Hall

Tea Clones:   

Tea is a perennial crop and farmers can harvest the same bush for decades, so when farmers replant it is important that their plants are fit for the future. ETP supports tea farmers to access tea clones that have been bred to withstand the impacts of climate change, such as drought or an increase in pests or disease. 

In Malawi, farmers are growing drought-resistant tea seedlings in 59 tea nurseries and in Kenya, tea farmers have planted over half a million drought and frost-resistant tea seedlings since 2014.

Access to the tea clones is provided through the Farmer Field Schools, where farmers learn about them through special climate change adaptation training modules and are provided with the seedlings to grow their tea plants.

Hear from Thebronia, Malawi

Income Diversification:

Developing additional and alternative sources of income is an important element in building resilience to the effects of climate change, particularly for small scale farmers, many of whom rely on tea. ETP, through the Farmer Field Schools, supports tea farmers by helping them identify suitable new opportunities.

For example, farmer Speciose leads one of ETP’s Farmer Field Schools in Rwanda, where nearly half the members are women. The group learnt how to grow mushrooms through the programme, and Speciose says “This will be a very good income-generating activity for us”. The extra money can be saved in one of ETP’s lending and savings schemes, which she also heads.

Aside from the financial benefits, Speciose says

“We appreciate this because mushrooms are rich in nutrients and minerals and will contribute to the good health of our families”.

Hear from Gervais, Rwanda

In Rwanda, tea farmers are also learning to grow avocados as an additional source of income, which is important for farmers who need to diversify their incomes should climate change make tea growing more difficult. The avocado trees are also beneficial as they are planted on the edge of the farmers’ land meaning that they do not take space away from tea crops, so can be grown in addition to the tea plants that farmers rely on.

Cookstoves:

Electricity is an expensive and elusive luxury in Malawi and around 90% of households still rely on charcoal or firewood for cooking. It is hard to over-emphasise how devastating the resulting deforestation is.

The ETP cookstoves programme through Malawi Tea 2020, a multi-stakeholder partnership that works to improve the lives of tea communities, aims to reduce deforestation, improve health and provide an additional source of income for the farmers. The cookstoves have been carefully designed to reduce fuel needs by up to a third during cooking when compared to traditional open fires and they allow an average family of five to reduce their fuel consumption by around 30%. By training women to make and sell the fuel efficient cookstoves so that their use becomes widespread, the ETP programme aims to slow down the rate trees are felled while providing women with a new source of income.

Hear from Veronica, Malawi

Mavuto Banda, Natural Resources Manager for ETP in Malawi comments:

“Ultimately we want to reduce deforestation and increase reforestation. People won’t stop cooking, but we can make it more efficient through the distribution of fuel-efficient cook stoves”.

Find out more about how ETP is supporting the cookstoves programme through our own CarbonNeutral journey.

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