Small tea growers can struggle to secure and maintain market share and financial sustainability. This can be a great concern as more than two-thirds of the world’s tea output originates from small growers. A proposal has been made to create a new international agency that will represent the interests and needs of these small share farmers.
At an inter-session meeting of the Intergovernmental Group of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Milan, Italy, representatives from countries including India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Malawi and Indonesia submitted a report from the Working Group on Tea Smallholders. The group led the call for a new organization, a confederation that can look out for the key interests and needs of small growers. Other countries represented at the meeting included Japan, China, Turkey, Argentina, Canada and the United States. The proposed name for the group is the Confederation of International Tea Small Holders.
“Price realisation” is core issue for these growers. Large buyers and government regulations are increasingly requiring certifications that ensure safety and wage protections for workers. While these are all important steps, there is no support on the back-end to help small growers recoup these expenses. They need help finding ways to efficiently and consistently grow high quality crops with reasonable production costs and with some opportunities for direct product sales.
Support for small growers is no small issue for the industry. In Sri Lanka, 73% of all tea grown is from small share farmers. In Kenya small tea growers produce 60% of the tea. The numbers stand at 47% in Indonesia and 36% in India.
The need for supports for small farms has been a priority of the FAO. In 2015 “The State of Food Insecurity in the World” report dedicates several pages to the needs of family farms and smallholder agriculture, noting that 90% of farms across the world are still managed by individuals or families. Their 2014 report “State of Food and Agriculture” emphasizes the critical role that small farms play in healthy food systems.
The discussion will continue at the May 2016 FAO meeting in Kenya.