Training smallholder farmers & plantation workers in sustainable tea production

An initiative between Unilever, Pepsi Lipton International and Rainforest Alliance to drive large-scale change in the tea industry. The aim is to increase yields, income, and improve access to global markets through training thousands of farmers and plantation workers in sustainable agriculture practices.

The project is a collaboration between Unilever and the Rainforest Alliance as part of a larger Origin Development project covering 14 countries in Africa and Asia.

In Sri Lanka, the project is targeted at three groups of smallholders, who are suppliers to the tea company, Finlays, which grows tea on its Hapugastenne Plantations. The groups are located at tea estates at Duckwari (100 members), Madulkelle (250) and Blair Lomone (350). The Madulkelle tea estate is most advanced in terms of training and is ready for certification. Potential for scale-up is already there, as there is interest from the Tea Small Holdings Development Authority to include 850 other farmers linked to the training of Blair Lomone’s 350 farmers.

The project aims to secure Rainforest Alliance certification for the smallholder farmers supplying raw materials to Finlays. The criteria for certification, as set out by the Rainforest Alliance, relate to water, sanitation and hygiene. For example, is the wastewater management sustainable, are toilets provided for the pickers and other personnel, and is the use of protective equipment mandatory for anyone handling pesticides? These criteria were not always met in the past, and the training has led to a number of changes on the farms.

The training programme also covers good agricultural practices, such as better management of pesticides and fertilisers, improved management of the soil (with lower levels of herbicide and the use of compost), and in-filling of gaps in the tea estates. As these improvements are adopted, the farmers will see improved yields and a better quality of plucked tea.