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Unilever increases support for Kenyan tea farmers

Muranga County, Kenya: Unilever’s collaboration with the Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KDTA) is set to improve the livelihoods of 96,000 farmers by 2015.

Boost to tea production

Unilever has scaled up its collaboration with KDTA as it seeks to help more smallholder farmers achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. The collaboration, which also involves Netherlands-based The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), was first formed in 2009 to establish Farmer Field Schools that train tea farmers in sustainable agriculture. The schools teach sustainability best practice in areas including tea plucking, pesticide use and protection, bio-diversity, soil management and soil fertility, and have resulted in a 30% boost in tea production for growers that have had the training.

Since the project began, almost 800 Farmer Field School trainings have been held in all of the 66 factories the KTDA manages and, by the end of 2013, the KTDA will be 100% Rainforest Alliance certified.

The project’s positive impact is now set to further escalate, with Unilever committing to scale up the training programme to reach 96,000 farmers by 2015, indirectly impacting the livelihoods of 560,000 smallholders.

Encouraging rich pickings across Africa

As well as improved yields and profitability, many of the farmers who have been through the training programme have reported better livelihoods, with an overall uplift in health and education levels. Their anecdotal reports are supported by several studies conducted by IDH.

Joost Oorthuizen, Executive Director of IDH says “The results of Farmer Field Schools in Kenya are truly, truly impressive. The fact that the Farmer Field Schools are set-up and rolled out so cleverly and cost-efficiently is a big compliment to KTDA and Unilever. It is time now to upscale and embed the Farmer Field School methodology and see whether we can roll this out in other countries as well”

The success of the Kenyan training programmes has already led to requests for the KDTA share its knowledge more widely by partnering with non-KTDA tea farmers in Kenya, as well as putting plans in place to roll out the Farmer Field School training programme in Malawi, Uganda and possibly also Rwanda.

Chief Executive Officer of KTDA, Lerionka Tiampati, says: “We intend to reach all our 3,200 buying centres and train 96,000 farmers on sustainable tea production and compliance by 2015. Despite the global challenges facing the tea industry, we continue to promote rural industrialisation, while mitigating the negative environmental impacts caused by bad farming practice”

By the end of 2015 all KDTA factories will not only have fully integrated training practices, they will also have their own allocated budgets to sustain these activities and maintain their Rainforest Alliance accreditation, so they can continue to supply to Unilever.

Partnering to Win

Unilever’s ambition, as part of its Sustainable Living Plan, is to engage with at least 500,000 smallholder farmers and 75,000 small-scale distributors in its supply network by 2020.

It’s focusing on interventions that demonstrably improve agricultural practices and enhance livelihoods. In April 2013, Unilever trained 450,000 tea farmers in sustainable practices through its supply partnerships.

Arijit Mukherjee, VP Procurement Tea at Unilever, says: “We have worked with KTDA for over six years now as part of our Partner to Win programme, which aims to build strategic relationships with our key suppliers. We are proud to be partnering with them and IDH on this programme. It is a great example of working efficiently with partners that share common goals and values, to deliver work that creates real impact and touches the lives of many farmers.

"Benefits have already been seen and I am confident that, as this programme develops, we will have knowledge and learnings that we can share with the rest of the tea industry.”

Sustainable Source magazine produced this year in September, May and February. You can subscribe by contacting us.

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