Sustainable Landscapes and the Tea Value Chain


by Ellie Biggs
University of Southampton

“Tea2030… [identifies] a real opportunity for tea to become a ‘hero’ crop. A hero crop delivers more than just a commodity. It also delivers major benefits to the millions of people involved in the tea sector, the planet and the wider economy.”

Having stumbled across Tea2030 whilst doing background reading for our project, I decided to dig a little further to find out more. Initiated by Forum for the Future Tea2030 is a global collaboration bringing multiple stakeholders together to explore the future challenges facing the tea sector. Tea2030 have highlighted 29 big challenges relating to future sustainability of tea landscapes, including factors such as demand for labour, water scarcity, productivity gains, availability of inputs and climate change impacts. These challenges require a multi-institutional response in order to address the entire tea value chain and promote future tea sector sustainability. Tea2030 has facilitated this consortium though bringing together tea producers, brands, certifiers, retailers, government, NGOs and researchers.

A Sustainable Tea Landscape

Given the synergies between some of the identified challenges of Tea2030 and our UKIERI project objectives, I took their website invite offer up to contact the team regarding the possibility of working with them. I received an enthusiastic response inviting me to attend a workshop the team were hosting in London. This half-day event (held in November 2014) provided an excellent opportunity to engage with many tea industry experts and a chance for me to discuss our research with a captive industry-focussed audience; in fact, out of the 30 attendees only two were from academic institutions.

The workshop topic focussed on making sense of sustainable landscapes for the tea sector. A highly interactive atmosphere provided an ideal set-up to push forward key conceptual thinking on defining sustainable landscapes for the tea industry, select a series of case study regions to pursue at the landscape-level, and explore tools which are pushing forward multi-scale sustainable solutions throughout the tea value chain. Following break-out sessions, group consensus refined three internationally important tea regions as case studies: (i) Assam, Northeast India (ii) Southern Malawi, and (iii) Mau, Kenya. These landscapes are of varying scales with high economic value, a diversity of environmental attributes and have both common and distinct sustainability challenges. Various ideas arose regarding a clearer definition of sustainable landscapes, including the need to explicitly integrate sustainable livelihoods. Tools for sustainable landscape management within the three regions were discussed but it was evident that case studies needed further development to fully evaluate the success and potential of landscape approaches.


What’s next for Tea2030?

The final outcome of the workshop identified key roles for members of the Tea2030 consortium to pursue in making the value chain more sustainable at a landscape scale. These roles relate to ideas which have potential to build upon ongoing solutions and address opportunities in the case study regions. For example, an idea to better promote the consumer-producer relationship for retailing tea, similar to the success achieved within the coffee industry in recent years whereby consumers are engaged with the production status of the coffee they are purchasing (e.g. labelling of fairtrade certification; organic; tea estate responsible for production etc.), was suggested as an opportunity for multiple Tea2030 actors to play a role in promoting sustainable practices to enhance the value chain for case study areas. The next stage is for members to take their key roles and translate these into a case for action to ensure that tea landscapes have future sustainability and tea can be championed as a hero crop through a sustainable value chain. Further workshops will be planned to discuss collaborator engagement and progress.