We chat with Dhayan Madawala about Finlays’ decision to source tea from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms. In 2010, Finlays’ Sri Lankan tea estates became the first in the country to earn Rainforest Alliance certification.
Archive for the ‘tea’ Category
Back from an incredible trip to Ecuador, Maya Albanese – a coordinator for the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable value chains team in North America – talks about her experience touring the Amazon region’s only black tea farm.
“How do I get to Palora, Ecuador?” I asked of an Ecuadorian friend during a recent trip to to visit Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms.
Her perplexed response: “What is Palora?”
As it turns out, she wasn’t the only one who had not heard of this tiny jungle town at the cusp of the Amazon in an area of Ecuador known as “El Oriente.” Even my trusty Lonely Planet guide made no mention of Palora.
Why was I looking for this seemingly nonexistent town? Palora is the site of Hacienda Sangay, a 50-year-old tea farm growing the only black tea in the Amazon region. Certified in 2008, the farm – which has long been committed to responsible production — has been the lifeline of the area for decades. In fact, the town of Palora emerged after the tea farm was established in 1964.
Before I headed off to Palora, I decided to stop by the capital city of Quito for a rest, advice and to locate a driver who could take me to this mysterious place. I was fortunate to find Carlos, a great driver and soon-to-be new friend, who had passed Palora on drives to Macas, a larger city located nearby.
Carlos and I drove along the famous ‘Ruta de los Volcanes,’ passing towering ice-capped mountains and waterfalls, and the famous hot springs of Baños*. We moved from one ecosystem to another, until finally the deciduous flora faded away and the forest became greener, the birds more symphonic, the air heavier and hotter, and the road rockier.
When we arrived in Palora six hours later, the streets were completely empty and the restaurants closed, but the one hotel in town took me in for the night. It was the end of Carnaval, and no one had returned to work yet. I used a local phone to call the tea farm. ‘I’m here!’ I exclaimed.
The next morning, I finally saw Hacienda Sangay and it took my breath away. Driving past undulating rows of lush green tea plants, I could not help but be distracted by the backdrop of volcanoes, palm trees, vines and tropical flowers. The farm is impeccably maintained under the direction of Pedro Veintimilla, who has been working and living at Hacienda Sangay for 30 years and is deeply committed to its success and the health and happiness of its workers.
Pedro gave me an outstanding tour of the farm and its processing facilities. We visited the farm’s hydroelectric plant, which supplies almost all of Hacienda Sangay’s power. The farm maintains several forests of native trees, which are selectively cultivated to provide all the wood necessary for the tea farm’s operations. Hacienda Sangay has also eliminated combustible chemicals as part of the certification process, and has replaced the petroleum that runs its harvest machines with oil from local palms. When I asked Pedro about other changes implemented as a result of certification, he mentioned a reduction in the overall use of agrochemicals, better and safer agrochemical storage, and an emphasis on worker safety when handling these chemicals. He also mentioned that, since earning Rainforest Alliance certification, Hacienda Sangay has seen the return of many native bird and animal species that had almost disappeared.
The farm is owned by “La Compania Ecuatoriana del Te,” which sells infused and flavored black teas under the Sangay and Horniman’s brands. It is the largest seller of tea in Ecuador, in addition to being the only black tea producer in the region.
My journey to Hacienda Sangay concluded with a memorable tour around the surrounding area. Pedro and I visited one of the popular local “playas,” or river banks, where locals gather to swim and picnic. We watched a pink mother-of-pearl sunset over the volcanoes of Parque Nacional Sangay and talked about the incomparable beauty of the farm and its surroundings.
The farm was a shining example of the benefits of Rainforest Alliance certification in a region with rich biodiversity and precious natural resources.
*Banos is home to two great, green hotels that have earned Rainforest Alliance verification. Check them out at SustainableTrip.org
Recently, Noah Jackson — a Rainforest Alliance trainer and auditor — traveled to Sri Lanka to learn how we can improve our farmer training, motivate field teams and apply the standards required for certification in a smallholder setting. He writes…
There is no such thing as a simple morning cup of tea on a Sri Lankan tea farm. Over the past several weeks, I’ve slept not far from several of the country’s small, one-acre farms. These tea fields are typically family-owned and, during peak season, tea leaves must be plucked several times a week. After harvesting, the tea is collected directly from homes, pickup points in villages and roadside stops.
For farmers, it’s a buyer’s market: Despite the current drought, these teas are in such high demand that they must be shipped daily. Some of Sri Lanka’s tea factories produce more than 20 different grades of tea.
I’m here to see how the Rainforest Alliance can improve our training, motivate field teams and apply the standards required for certification in a smallholder setting.
This morning, over a cup of tea, I spent some time contemplating the complexities of Sri Lankan tea farming Many local farms are 150 years old with compacted soils that require mulch and organic inputs. Farmers are struggling with costs, labor shortages and insufficient inputs. Rather than using chemical fertilizers imported from overseas, the farms need to begin producing their own organic fertilizers to retain more soil moisture and protect Sri Lanka’s most precious resource — soil.
In our training sessions, I work with local trainers to make compost and we discuss green mulching strategies. We also talk about making compost tea – a nutrient rich organic spray – and stabilizing slopes using “seed ball” techniques. In another meeting, we discuss budgeting issues and the values of farming. During our short time together, it’s my job to give the farmers some real tools they can use to begin addressing these complex issues.
While Sri Lankan tea is traditionally consumed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, global politics make export to these countries difficult. It is my hope that the important steps we are taking on local farms — and the very act of groups addressing sustainable practices — will create more robust farms and markets for their products.
Every day, 160 million cups of tea are sipped in the UK. That’s an impressive figure. Even more impressive: 37 percent of that tea – or 60 million cups – comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms. In today’s Rainforest Alliance Week guest blog, our friends at Yorkshire Tea talk about the noteworthy commitment to sustainability made by one of their Kenyan suppliers.
Last week, we awarded our first ever Supplier of the Year trophy to Kionyo, one of our key Kenyan suppliers. It was a great chance to show the suppliers our appreciation – not just for the quality of their tea and their commitment to meeting standards for sustainability but also to recognize their ongoing work toward achieving Rainforest Alliance certification.
Right from the start, George Mwangi and the rest of the team at Kionyo showed a real determination to bring all of their farmers on the journey toward sustainability. The same is true of Imenti, another key supplier of top quality Kenyan tea. “Imenti and Kionyo process the tea picked by around 13,000 smallholder farmers around the Mount Kenya region in central Kenya, producing some of the country’s finest teas,” explains Ian Brabbin, our head of tea.
We helped to fund the training of all the smallholder farmers who supply teas to these factories. It started with around 50 lead farmers being trained by the Rainforest Alliance. These 50 then traveled around the area to explain the Sustainable Agricultural Network standards to 13,000 of their fellow farmers. They covered topics like the safe use of fertilizers, recycling, tree planting, water management and good plucking standards.
This is a great way to drive improvements — not just to meet the SAN’s environmental standards, but also to meet standards for productivity and quality.
“We’re really impressed with the efforts of everyone at Kionyo and Imenti,” adds Ian. “We’re all hoping to hear that they’ve successfully achieved Rainforest Alliance certification in the near future.”
Rainforest Alliance auditor, trainer, photographer and blogger Noah Jackson is back and sharing images from a recent trip to tea farms in Sri Lanka.
When I visit farms, it is the farmers – their stories and the way they care for their land – that resonate most for me. I’ve tried to capture this through a collection of images taken during a recent trip to Sri Lanka. This first grouping focuses on the people.
There is a cool wind tonight. It sweeps up from the lowlands, following a steep, contoured slope. The 200-year-old incline is dotted with rows of tea plants, nitrogen-fixing glycidia trees, new growth (known as ‘infill’ by small holders), the occasional forest island and a cluster of cement, mud and wooden houses. Throughout my travels over the past few years, houses like these have become very familiar to me. In fact, they all feel a bit like second homes.
During my 10-day stay in Sri Lanka, I will visit just a fraction of the small holder farms located in the island’s prime tea-producing area. In total, I’ll probably see about 40 farms, each covering roughly one-acre of land, and (in combination) producing about three tons of tea each year. Last year, 315 million tons of tea were produced in Sri Lanka and sixty percent of it was grown on small, family-owned farms. Some of these farms are just three quarters of an acre; others reach three acres and feature small rubber forests, or borders of cinnamon and betel nut trees. Still others are (quite literally) peppered with pepper plants, coconut trees and other marketable fruits such as banana and papaya. Some are dotted with springs and rivers — and many have been farmed for multiple generations.
It is quite something to climb stone steps built generations ago. Not only does the area evoke a sense of history, but of the spiritual. Sacred trees can be found on many of these farms. There is one tree, for example, believed to be associated with the origin of Buddhism in the country. These places and trees are cared for and protected accordingly.
There are other layers of history that make these lands even more interesting. Before the mid 1800s, these farms were entirely populated by coffee crops. A common fungal pest known as ‘leaf blight’ swept across the region and destroyed the network of small farms that Dutch colonizers had built up. By the 1870s, these farms had been converted to tea and rubber.
As I tap out these very words, I am surrounded by a group of hills sprouting from coastal planes. I‘m in the south central region of the country — the heart of this pear-shaped land.
Within my sight line is a forest reserve and World Heritage Site — the Sinharaja Reserve, which translates directly to “Lion King.” During the mornings, rain clouds pass through the ridges of the hills, descending from an area that represents the bulk of Sri Lanka’s remaining rainforest.
The forest itself is mostly off limits. Locals are allowed to tap palms to make jaggery and treacle (two kinds of sweets made from sugarcane and palm oil), gather dead wood and leaves for fodder and fuel, and collect a seasonal harvest of medicinal plants.
Over the course of the next 10 days, I will be walking on farms that are generations old and tended by farmers who have lived through great challenges. My primary job is to look at the barriers to sustainable agriculture in the region. (I’ll talk more about those barriers in my next post.) I will also be learning from the farmers here — gaining knowledge from the wisdom of their experience.
I stand up and stretch my legs. I know there is a curry waiting for me in the small house below. I walk down the terraces towards it, counting steps, naming new plants and practicing for the learning that’s to come. Tomorrow will be another long, interesting day.
Check back in a few days to read more about Noah’s experience in Sri Lanka.
Annemieke Wijn, a Rainforest Alliance board member and a veteran of the beverage industry, blogs about a recent trip to the southeast shores of the Black Sea. On the trip, she visited a number of tea farms preparing to earn Rainforest Alliance certification.
At four cups per person per day, the people of Turkey are world champion tea drinkers. Now, the farmers of the Rize province, together with the people of Unilever, are working hard to make sure that tea is Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Located on the southeastern shore of the Black Sea, Rize is a temperate rainforest zone. It boasts a number of national parks and is the epicenter of Turkey’s tea production.
To prevent erosion on Rize’s steep hillsides, farmers plant native trees between the tea fields to shore up the soil. In farmer field schools, the tea growers also learn about efficient and effective ways to use fertilizers.
In Turkey, a special emphasis is placed on woman’s healthcare. These women quite literally carry a heavy load — the result of their work in the fields — and often suffer from back problems later in life. A medical team providing testing and information will be visiting the villages soon.
If all goes according to plan, the first certified Lipton tea bags will be on the Turkish market in a few years.
Learn more about the Rainforest Alliance’s work in tea.
Noah Jackson – an auditor and trainer for the Rainforest Alliance’s agriculture and forestry programs — describes a recent trip to Kenya, where the Rainforest Alliance is working to ensure that tea farms are managed according to strict standards for social, economic and environmental sustainability.
Flying into Kenya is different than flying into most major airports in the world. For starters, a game reserve surrounds the Nairobi airport. If you’re lucky — as I was — a group of ungulates and a cluster of giraffes will greet your plane as it descends onto the tarmac.
I am met at the airport by the driver for Africa Now — a Rainforest Alliance partner group that helps to conduct farmer trainings and implement the Sustainable Agriculture Standard on-farm The driver chatted about his frequent forays into the country’s Mount Kilimanjaro coffee lands and highland tea-growing areas. We took a brief detour from the airport traffic to pause near a lookout point, where we could see a variety of ungulates – including (we guessed) a herd of wildebeests — in the distance.
It was my first trip to Kenya, but I already felt at home. Weaving through the traffic was another story. It was a gnarled and slow drive through the city and out to a meeting point on the city outskirts. (For those readers familiar with the gridlocks of Jakarta, Kenya’s traffic seems just as bad.)
When traveling, it seems I am usually on the way to a meeting with a farmer or farmer organizer. This constant travel requires what I call a “harvesting approach.” What I mean is that, like any farmer, I’ve trained myself to act on a resource opportunity when I see one.
Along our drive out of town, we spotted a street side barbershop. During my short wait, as the Africa Now car crept slowly onward, the barber turned to me, and, by way of introduction, asked, “Won’t you first have a cup of tea?” It was my first chance to try Kenyan tea.
The green elixir is grown mostly in the highlands at an elevation of between 5000 and 7000 feet. The best tea is harvested in February and March by smallholder farmers, who typically own less than one acre of land, and on larger plantations. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had arrived at prime harvest season, in March. The tea was ripe, enriched by volcanic soils and faintly tasting of earth.
With my hair cut, I continued on my way to trace the tea to its source. This would not be complete without some introductory meetings with the Kenyan Tea Growers Association, a group that manages and provides support services for all the large plantations in Kenya. It is another key group we coordinate with to train farmers and implement strategies that support sustainable farming – strategies like implementing collective bargaining agreements for workers and ensuring that they are earning good living wages.
The first tea planted in Kenya came from Indian seedlings. The trees have been growing since 1903. Taking a bus through the Unilver-owned Kericho estate is a nice introduction to a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm. Eucalyptus forests — managed to provide kindling for factory tea dryers — sit alongside natural, native forest and help provide cooking fuel for the local communities. Roadside gullies channel water back into the natural watershed. Tea is planted along contours of the land; a small cattle operation helps supplement local farmer income.
After wandering through the factory, I head out to see the first bush ever planted. It’s well over 100 years old. I stand under the tree and touch the cambium, the outer woody layer that forms part of an ancient stem, breathing in the earthy scent.
So often, I’m reminded that I’ve only just begun my quest to understand the natural history of the world’s crops. Returning to some of the first tea trees in the country is an appropriate step on my journey; it is a perfect way to understand the natural history of tea, the literal roots of production and sustainability.
Check back in a few days to read part 2 of “Tracing the Natural History of Tea”…