Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, and most of the population live in rural areas. Tea is one of the country’s most important industries and main export crops. Tea is Malawi’s biggest employer, with 50,000 people working in the sector.
While these jobs pay above the national average, tea workers remain poor. The 16,500 small-scale tea farmers in Malawi also find it challenging to make a decent income and provide for their families.
Poor diets are a fundamental issue in Malawi, and malnutrition is one of the reasons why one in ten children in tea-growing regions don’t live past the age of five.
Malawi is highly vulnerable to climate change, which affects where and how tea can be grown. The impact of deforestation in the country has been significant, causing flash floods and limiting firewood for the rural population.
We were a driving force behind the Malawi Tea 2020 Revitalisation Programme, a multi-stakeholder partnership that aimed to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the Malawian industry so that workers could earn a living wage and small-scale farmers could earn a living income.
The first of its kind in the tea industry, Malawi Tea 2020 brought together the organisations that could deliver the fundamental changes needed to achieve this.
All 22 organisations (producers, traders, buyers, retailers, trade unions, NGOs and development partners) were committed to working together. Our goal was to create a competitive and profitable Malawian tea industry, which could sustainably improve incomes for workers and farmers so that they could maintain a decent standard of living, for them and their families.
As well as coordinating the Malawi Tea 2020 partnership, together with the Tea Association of Malawi, Oxfam, IDH – Sustainable Trade Initiative and German development agency GIZ, ETP’s team directly delivered a number of programmes that support this partnership.
Through our Farmer Field School, entrepreneurship and nutrition training, as well as our community savings schemes and climate and environment work, we worked to change the lives of people in Malawi’s tea communities. Our wide-ranging efforts to support farmers to increase their incomes reached the majority of small-scale farmers in Malawi.
We made good progress through the Malawi Tea 2020 partnership. Our joint efforts are recognised as a rare example of a successful partnership, which led to change on living wages and had far-reaching economic, social and environmental impact.
Insight from Ethical Trade Manager at Oxfam, Rachel Wilshaw:
“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 on wages, nutrition and worker representation. 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”.
Living wages for workers
Malawi Tea 2020 was a ground-breaking programme that was truly able to tackle the issue of living wages in the sector. ETP drove forward progress, prompting the industry to go further and implement improved and innovative business practices so that wages can sustainably be increased.
Insight from living wage experts Richard & Martha Anker:
“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”
Our leading-edge work has sparked real change. Back in 2013, we partnered with Oxfam and IDH – Sustainable Trade Initiative to identify the obstacles to raising wages, and galvanize the industry to address the gap between current and living wage.
To develop appropriate strategies to improve incomes we co-funded a study by wages experts Richard and Martha Anker to calculate the living wage benchmark. We worked with GIZ to assess what it would take for farmers to achieve a decent standard of living for them and their families.
Significant steps have been taken to close the gap between current and living wage, so that tea workers can make a decent living. Since the Malawi Tea 2020 partnership started, the tea sector’s first ever collective bargaining agreement was signed between the Tea Association of Malawi and the Plantation Agricultural Workers Union in July 2016. It was re-signed in July 2018.
Our impact is recognised in Malawi Tea 2020’s ground-breaking Wages Committee reports, which are written by the leading experts on living wage.
Better incomes for farmers
We worked with farmers to increase their incomes by developing their tea farming skills and knowledge about other crops they can grow, as well as offering business management training. Over 6,000 farmers took part in the training – and more than two-thirds were women.
We help people in tea communities to develop new, entrepreneurial and innovative ways to make money.
Tea communities have learnt so much from our far-reaching programmes. Farmers and workers have better diets.
Thanks to the Malawi Tea 2020 partnership, estates now provide healthier food for their staff. Over 30,000 tea workers now have a lunch meal that is fortified with essential vitamins and includes fresh vegetables. Some estates also encouraged women to grow vegetables, which estates then bought and added to the lunch menu.
Our programmes encouraged women to gain more independence. This had a ripple effect across tea communities, as these women became champions – and encouraged others to learn from and emulate them. We therefore drove change on a much larger scale.
Recognising the vulnerability of the tea industry to climate change, we also set up initiatives to tackle environmental issues in Malawi.