A Farmer-Led Future for Tea – by Equal Exchange – May 17, 2021

Karen Lunde May 21, 2021

This article introduces the dire living situation for most tea farmers and their families. Here are some details, read the article to learn more:

“Did you know that tea is the second most popular drink in the world—second only to water?

Here’s another question: do you know that, even today, it is likely that the tea products lining your grocery store’s shelves— even those sold as Fair Trade—were sourced from plantations established under colonialism?

Despite more modern reforms, the colonial plantation system created a vast monoculture tea infrastructure so deeply rooted that it remains largely unchanged.

Tea workers remain deeply dependent on the plantations for all of their basic human needs. When tea prices fall below the cost of production, it is far too common an occurrence that plantations will be abandoned by the owners, leaving the workers and their families in dire circumstances.

Cara Ross, a Sales Director at Equal Exchange, recalls hearing from tea farmers who experienced this at the Potong Tea Garden in Darjeeling, a prominent tea growing region in India. “Overnight, workers lost not only income, but housing, food, healthcare and education,” Ross says. “The Potong Tea Garden’s history stands out to me as a clear example of the injustices of the colonial plantation model, which at its core is built upon the indentured servitude and dependency of workers.”

Equal Exchange is working to forge a different path for small farmers everywhere. As an alternative trade organization (ATO) we partner with small farmer organizations around the world to change existing power structures and build economic solidarity between farmers and consumers.

To build true alternative trade in tea, we need to do two things—and we need your help to do them. First, we need to continue to build a marketplace for small tea farmers. Secondly, we need to build awareness about the problems in the industry.

As an alternative trader, Equal Exchange is deeply committed to both of these efforts: we’re continuing to expand our tea program, and creating spaces for consumers to learn about where tea comes from and the people who grow it.

You can help by shopping for small-farmer grown Equal Exchange tea at your local co-op. And if you’ve learned anything from this article, share it with your friends, family, and neighbors—and encourage them to ask for Equal Exchange tea where they shop!”