Our Cup of Organic Tea: Empowered Farmers, Better Trade

Sara Fiore
August 15, 2014
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When do you enjoy our fairly traded, organic tea? Whether it’s a warm cup in the morning or tall glass of iced tea on a summer afternoon, tea is a refreshing and delicious complement to any relaxing moment. In every cup of Equal Exchange tea, there’s the story of farmers and workers who are building better lives and a better model for bringing that tea to your pot.

Our organic teas come from small-scale farms in India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. While most tea on the market (even Fair Trade certified!) comes from large plantations and estates, Equal Exchange partners with co-operatives of family farms and small-scale land owners. Purchasing organic tea directly from democratically organized groups of farmers ensures that workers, not plantation owners, reap the benefits.

But the principles that make our tea trade model fair and successful (and blazed a trail in the coffee and cocoa trade) are still extremely uncommon in the tea industry. We believe in trade that:

  • strengthens the autonomy of small farmer organizations
  • promotes among farmers a sense of ownership and control over one’s business
  • encourages entrepreneurship
  • builds and strengthens a sense of community
  • encourages debate and participatory decision making

We believe that “Fair Trade” should mean “small farmer,” and our relationships reflect that.

Each of our producer partners is unique, with a storied history of ambition, struggle and success. Over the years they have worked to set themselves apart in a historically oppressive industry. And we are proud to be working with them and bringing their organic tea to your table.

Producer Snapshot

In India, we work with four organizations. Tea Promoters of India (TPI) are pioneers of environmental and social reform in the tea industry, supporting small tea farmers by helping them gain access to international markets. Through TPI, Equal Exchange has been able to connect with other small tea farmers seeking international market access and support.

This includes the Potong Tea Garden, previously a colonial plantation that has been reclaimed by workers, the Mineral Springs Co-op which is one of the first small tea farming initiatives in the plantation-controlled region of Darjeeling, and the Small Farmers Tea Project in Kerala, which focuses on economic growth and control for its historically marginalized members.

In Sri Lanka, we work with the Small Organic Farmer’s Association (SOFA) and Bio Foods, organizations working toward prosperous communities and a healthy local environment. With over 1600 small-scale, landowning members today, SOFA is a thriving example of small tea growers’ success. Bio Foods, with a mission to provide market access to small farmers, processes and packs all of SOFA’s tea. As part of this system, Sri Lankan tea farmers are able to stay on their land, support their families and maintain vibrant communities.

The Wupperthal Original Rooibos Co-operative in the Cederburg Region of South Africa is a democratically organized group of farmers who have been growing rooibos for generations. Pushed off their land in the 1800s, they have endured the apartheid era and struggled to reclaim their livelihoods and thrive on the fringes of fertile land.

Now they grow their tea in the rocky terrain of the Cederburg Mountains, which presents numerous challenges – though the slow growth of their rooibos actually produces a higher quality tea. Today, 98% of the world’s rooibos is grown on plantations, making the Wupperthal Co-operative a unique example of alternative tea production.

There is still work to be done and progress to be made in making big change in the tea industry – but with your support, these innovative and resilient farmers are leading the way. Brew another cup and enjoy!

Shop for fairly traded, organic tea

Learn more about our tea farmer partners.