In 2019, it is still possible to drink a handcrafted tea without any problems. The question is: how much longer? What can we do to ensure sustainable, economically sensible tea production?

The economics and sustainability of manufacturing companies is already a huge problem in the Western world. Let’s just imagine the challenge a tea farmer from Nepal has in front of him. This article is intended to focus on the economic challenge of sustainable tea cultivation.

What is sustainability?

First of all, one has to ask oneanother the question, what does “sustainability” actually mean? According to Herman Daly, the Economist of the World Bank, three factors are the most important factors:

  • The level of the rate of reduction of renewable resources must not exceed the rate of regeneration of the resource.
  • The level of emissions must not be higher than the capacity of assimilation.
  • Consumption of non-generate resources must be compensated by a corresponding increase in regenerable resources.

In terms of the tea industry, this simply means that a tea garden can be able to produce products without destroying its own livelihood. Because the excessive use of e.g. too much synthetic fertilizers eventually renders the field unusable. In the future, no more products could be produced.

If you want to know more about tea cultivation and its sustainability, have a look here.

Sustainability in tea production
Delicate tea leaves, ready for harvest

Sustainableness in the tea industry – what is the future?

The tea industry has grown rapidly over the last 200 years due to increasing demand and has developed from a local industry to an international business with a high number of competitors. The flooding of the market with cheap teas in the range of less than 5 euros per 100 grams now threatens the tea industry the most. With the exception of China, there is enormous price pressure on the tea gardens. The offer from countries such as Sri Lanka & Kenya is immense in the field of low-end teas. The result is a fall in prices – simple supply and demand economics.

Tea has become a sought-after international commodity that follows the same economic laws as many others. The supplier with the lowest price is usually able to sell his goods quickly – regardless of the quality. The result: many tea gardens barely move in the profit zone and can survive with + – 0.

A favourable factor here is certainly that, especially in rural areas, young generations are migrating to large cities. In many countries, there is simply a lack of labour. The Taiwanese, for example, have started to get workers from Vietnam and Thailand, because no one in Taiwan itself can go on the field. Similar to Japan, harvesting machines will probably be used here in the future. There is no other solution in the long term.

In the steep mountain slopes of India I have seen weathered tea fields with my own eyes. A sad sight that will not remain the exception.

A tough fight for the little ones. What can be done?

This economic phenomenon mainly affects small tea gardens, from which we also source our teas. These small family-run tea gardens often produce themost high-end teas. Here, the production volumes are relatively small – with still existing labour costs. Large producers, who mainly produce low-quality CTC teas, are already at an advantage due to the economies of scale.

One way for small producers is to join forces in farmers’ cooperatives in order to be more relevant to a larger and more international mark. These mergers can be observed well in Nepal, in southern India or even in the mountains of Taiwan. The farmers here are only responsible for harvesting the leaf material, and everything is then processed in a unified and communal tea factory. The profit is distributed fairly, the farmers receive a fair wage and have very low fixed costs.

We support these small farmers as best we can. Fair wages and direct trade are not an exception for us, but the rule. We love tea, but we only want to enjoy this wonderful drink if it is not harmful to people and nature. In the long term, sustainability is not an option, but a must.

Dear customers, we would like to offer you high-quality tea and thus also support small and independent tea farmers. This allows us to proudly call ourselves the Friends of Tea.

This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)