Millions of people in developing countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Turkey rely heavily on the labor-intensive job of cultivating and tea production for their livelihoods. The tea industry also creates jobs, particularly in rural and underdeveloped areas. The United Nations (U.N.) notes that tea “can play a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction and food security in developing countries, being one of the most important cash crops,” thereby contributing to meeting the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Meeting the SDGs
The production and processing of tea hold the potential to significantly contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which outlines the 17 SDGs and provides a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future,” the U.N. highlights.
Tea production in developing countries can help meet several SDGs. For instance, eliminating extreme poverty (SDG 1), zero hunger, (SDG 2), female empowerment (SDG 5) and the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15). By further improving the tea value chain, the tea industry can play an even greater role in global development.
International Tea Day
The U.N. General Assembly has marked May 21 as International Tea Day. The day aims to encourage group efforts to carry out initiatives in support of the “sustainable production and consumption of tea and raise awareness of its importance in fighting hunger and poverty,” the U.N. website highlights. The day also aims to recognize the important role of tea in contributing to the U.N. SDGs.
According to a 2022 publication by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the leading black tea exporter is Kenya, followed by India and Sri Lanka. The FAO says “Global tea production amounts annually to over $17 billion, while world tea trade is valued at about $9.5 billion, accounting for an important source of export earnings.” Furthermore, smallholder farmers contribute to 60% of global tea production, indicating that the tea industry contributes to income and food security in disadvantaged communities.
The FAO also highlights that global tea per capita consumption has risen by 2.5% over the past 10 years, with notable growth occurring in tea-producing nations. However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has negatively impacted the tea industry as Russia stood as “the largest importer of Indian tea, the third largest importer of Sri Lankan tea and the fifth largest importer of Kenyan tea,” the FAO notes. Additionally, the increase in prices of and limited availability of fertilizers due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict also impacts tea-growing countries.
The Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP)
The Ethical Tea Partnership is an organization that ensures equity and fair treatment for workers in the tea industry. Its efforts look to advance the SDGs in tea-growing areas through its Strategy2030, which looks to ensure equality among workers, economic fairness and environmental sustainability. For instance, ETP’s Improving Lives program in partnership with UNICEF has benefited 250,000 people. It has also impacted about 25% of all tea estates in the tea-producing state of Assam, India. The program’s achievements on these tea estates include reducing child marriage and exploitative child labor, promoting children’s education, establishing safe and accessible hygiene and sanitation facilities for girls and women and improving nutrition in communities.
Growing Tea Demand
The FAO forecasts that tea consumption will increase significantly over the next decade due to the rise in demand from developed and emerging countries. The report also highlights how demographics affect tea demand and consumption. People with better access to education have increased health awareness and, therefore, realize the health benefits of a cup of tea.
Popular for its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting effects, tea holds many health benefits, such as increasing antioxidants in the body, maintaining good heart health and lowering the risk of cancer. According to a study by during the COVID-19 pandemic tea consumption marked a 70% increase. The hot beverage is still popular as more people look for solutions to boost immunity naturally.
Tea production provides economic possibilities for tea growers in underdeveloped nations. And increased tea consumption carries the potential to create new rural income opportunities and improve food security in tea-producing countries.
– Ralitsa Pashkuleva