What a year it has been! Frank about tea turning 3 years old, Bart and Valerie going back to school in urban Kenya, and awaking on the tea plantation in our new origin Sri Lanka.
We look back at more impact realized, more fairchain tea consumed, and more partners that joined our mission than ever before! But let’s be frank, we also look back at more inequality and more climate change in the tea sector at large.
What do those numbers mean?
We’ve always been farmers first, but in order to secure the future of tea production, the environmental side is more relevant than ever. Hence why we have a list of Social + Environmental interventions that we think are necessary to radically change the tea game.
We’d love to focus on everything at once, but we need to be realistic here. Even if we had all the resources in the world (yeah right), the tea industry is so engrained within the capitalistic structures of the large tea companies, that we can’t change the entire system all by ourselves. But we’re doing what we can, and are thankful for the many people and organizations that joined our mission in 2019.
So here’s what we focus on:
Our SOCIAL interventions
What went well:
DIRECT TRADE. All our tea was purchased directly from local tea factories in our origin countries Kenya, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Direct trade = higher margin for tea factory and full transparency from leaf to cup
FARMER TRAININGS. We kicked off 5 Farmer Field Schools in Kenya, enabling 150 farmers to receive a 12 months training. Farmer Field Schools = increasing farmers incomes through teaching them about alternative ways of earning income besides tea, more efficient farming, reducing farming inputs etc.
What we’re working towards
LIVING INCOME. Living income for farmers is what it’s all about, but we’re definitely not there yet! While price premiums are great, there is currently still a big gap between what farmers are actually earning from tea, and how much they should be earning from tea, in order to meet living wage standard. A fair trade premium isn’t going to solve this. Living wage goes beyond a minimum wage, as we want farmers to earn enough income to live a life with dignity and freedom of choice. At the moment, we decided that investing in Farmer Field Schools is the best way to indirectly raise their income levels towards living wage. We now need to work with the tea factories to determine how more margin that we’re leaving in the origin country through direct trade, can be channeled towards the farmers. See next point for more info.
LOBBYING FOR HIGHER FARM GATE PRICE. Ok, so here’s the big fat silent problem in the tea industry system. Farmers are paid one set price for the green leaves they sell to the local tea factory. During the production process in the factory, those leaves either go on the mass-production pile for low grade CTC tea production that ends up in the old-fashioned tea bags, OR the green leaves end up in the orthodox production process that turns them into beautiful, high quality green, black, oolong or white tea. Which is what we’re into! However this does NOT affect the price of the green leaves paid to farmers at the ‘farm gate’. Crazy huh! So while we pay significantly more for orthodox teas to the local factory, the farm gate price remains the same. This is how the system works. Well then change it, right? We wish it was that easy. We run a pilot in Uganda wayyy back in 2016, which resulted in a local farmer revolt. Awesome?! Well yes, until we were told we weren’t welcome anymore because we disrupted the system too much.
Let’s not forget these are colonial-old systems, and the farm gate price is mostly determined through the prices paid for tea at the auction. And those prices are very low, because big tea brands don’t like paying the true price for their tea. Therefore squeezing local tea factories, which in turn have to squeeze farmer prices. Big changes take time, which is why it is SO important that we’ll keep lobbying and engaging big industry players, like our friends at Unilever, to understand that changing the underlying dynamic of the system is the ONLY real solution to the problem.
Our ENVIRONMENTAL interventions
What went well:
PRODUCTION. Our tea production is now powered with renewable energy sources (well 98% of it, since Kenya doesn’t have renewable production yet and we still source some teas like our African Breakfast tea in Kenya
PACKAGING. Our tea is packed climate-neutral (well 98% of it, since some teas were packaged or re-packaged at a ‘sociale werkplaats’ here in the Netherlands. Impact of a different kind..)
TRANSPORT. Our tea was transported by ship vs air (well more like 90% as we had to ship some back-up stock due to a delay in production due to climate change issues.. but that’s a whole different story).
PACKAGING. Our tea is packed in biodegradable tea bags made from corn starch, which saves a lot of garbage. Also, we don’t do envelopes around tea bags, which in turn saves a lot of paper. Our pouches are not biodegradable yet, but to be fair, this has <1% effect on our environmental footprint at this moment. The production process fuelled by fire wood was the real environmental demon, so this is where our main resources went towards impact.
What we’re working towards
100% SHIP. Eliminating air freight altogether (which means better inventory forecasting and production schedules)
BIOFUEL. Collaborating with biofuel shipping companies for more sustainable sea freight.
This concludes my rant on all things impact.
For those of you still reading this, congrats! You really want to understand the world behind your cup of tea. Let’s be frank, it’s much easier to believe the pretty green stories out there then to read this super long blog post. But hey we’re called Frank about tea for a reason, so thanks for being frank with us about our impact, and we look forward to keep changing the tea game with you in 2020!
Keep it frank!