Empowering women tea farmers in Vietnam

A 19,200 base of smallholder tea growers in Vietnam is working towards Rainforest Alliance certification with the support of Unilever, the RA and IDH, the sustainable trade initiative. Women’s empowerment is central to the agenda, with many women growers developing the skills to take on leadership roles within the farming community for the first time.

Training at farmer field schools

Smallholders in the tea sector in Vietnam are usually unable to access mainstream export markets. Improvements in the cultivation and processing of tea are strengthening their hand, and training is developing their leadership skills.

A two-year project launched in November 2013 embodies these goals. The project aims to improve the long-term economic, environmental and social sustainability of Vietnamese tea smallholders, many of them women, and improvements are being implemented in 30 tea factories, reaching over 19,000 Vietnamese smallholders. These smallholder tea growers are working towards certification by the Rainforest Alliance.

One tool for women’s empowerment is the farmer field school training programme. Here, women are gaining the confidence to speak at public events, traditionally a male preserve. By actively engaging in training activities, taking responsibility and learning to speak out, women are starting to develop strong leadership skills. As a result, in many areas in Vietnam, women have taken up leadership roles for the first time.

Certification by the Rainforest Alliance – both for the factories and the smallholder groups – entails meeting the required standards for water, sanitation and hygiene, such as wastewater management, the provision of toilets for personnel, and the use of protective equipment when handling pesticides.

The farmer field schools also include training on good agricultural practices – helping the smallholders to improve their use of pesticides and fertilisers, their management of the soil, with reduced herbicide use and the use of compost, their pruning techniques and plucking methods. These improvements lead to better quality and yields.