Emergency response in tea supply chain

Tea producers across the globe have been greatly affected by COVID-19, mainly because of national lockdowns and social distancing policies. Export and import restrictions are creating uncertainty on the tea market, and producers are undertaking emergency response measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in tea communities.

On international tea day, we would like to share the actions we are taking with our partners in Malawi, Kenya and India in response to COVID-19.  See below to find out more, and about the supply chain commitment which offers certainty to tea suppliers, workers, growers and communities.


The Malawian tea industry is experiencing low traffic on sales and movement of goods, which in turn is having an adverse effect on market operations and cash flow for tea producers. Though stocks of made tea are available in warehouses, producers are facing challenges to meet financial obligations specially to pay workers and smallholders who supply green leaf.

Facilitating conversations with financial service providers

To ease pressure on cash-flow, IDH has been facilitating conversations with financial service providers in Malawi on supporting the industry to ensure that operations do not come to a complete halt. As a result, a leading bank in Malawi has now reported finalization of agreements on payments of operational costs and exports. The bank is using processed tea as collateral for the facilities provided, and is aiding export of tea out of the country.

The tea industry in Malawi is a labour-intensive industry employing a workforce of around 50,000 unskilled and semi-skilled workers. The peak seasons for tea plucking and production in Malawi is from March to September, presenting a high risk of COVID-19 transmission due to the high concentration of people on the estates and in the factories.

In addition to longer-term program work, there has been a short-term emergency response on the ground to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in tea communities. IDH, Oxfam Malawi and the Tea Association of Malawi (TAML) are coordinating efforts to provide all workers at tea estates with WASH materials to promote hygiene practices as a prevention measure to COVID 19 transmission. In addition to this, TAML with support of IDH is also setting up an awareness campaign on COVID-19 prevention, reaching all workers in the industry. All activities aimed at workers complements the response that had been put in place by TAML on workplace prevention measures and guidelines.

Smallholder farmers in the country also face a risk of lower food and income security as a result of COVID-19. Capitalizing on the existing partnership with the Ethical Tea Partnership, we have distributed PPE and sanitation items, to ensure that training to farmers aimed at strengthening livelihoods can still continue safely, and in small groups. The partners have also made additional investments in kitchen gardens to enhance food security for over 4,000 smallholders and their family members. To help the disease from spreading, we are bringing awareness on COVID-19 through posters and radio campaigns.



As the biggest tea exporting country in Africa, the tea sector industry in Kenya has experienced some transportation disruptions from the tea producing areas to the port of Mombasa, as well as some consequential disruptions of cash flow. The impact on tea production itself is so far seems limited, however social distancing measures are triggering emergency response from tea producers in the country.

Addressing domestic violence in tea communities

As a consequence of the lockdowns imposed by many countries, an increase in cases of domestic violence and GBV has been reported globally. In Kenya, IDH is working with Kenyan producers on issues related to gender and gender-based violence (GBV) in the industry as part of the Gender Empowerment Platform. Together with ETP and the KTDA Foundation, we have set up activities to respond to the suspected increase in cases of domestic violence in Kenya.

Radio campaigns on COVID-19 and GBV awareness have been developed and will be broadcasted through local radio across all tea growing regions, so that all 600,000 smallholders that work with KTDA can be reached. In addition, information posters on GBV including a toll-free phone number (0800720501) have been spread at KTDA all tea buying centres.



The strict lockdown measures in India, world’s second tea producer, had shut down production of all agricultural industries for a number of weeks in March and April. Recently, tea gardens and small tea growers have been picking up tea production and export again, but the lockdown has impacted tea producers and smallholder livelihoods significantly.

IDH has set up a field-level response as part of the Agri-Entrepeneurs (AE) program for Small Tea Growers in Assam.

As part of immediate response, AEs in Golaghat are subsidizing transport for people in small tea grower communities with suspected cases of COVID-19, so that testing recommended by a registered medical practitioner or local healthcare/ASA worker can be provided. Also, the AEs are holding awareness calls with their network of small tea grower farmers, which are estimated to reach 4000 farmers. The calls will address topics such as maintaining personal hygiene and enforcing social distancing as advised by local and national health authorities.

In continuation of our effort to support small tea grower farmers during the pandemic, we have linked the AEs with the District Agriculture Department of the Assam state government. The AEs have received vegetable seeds for their kitchen gardens from the Department for distribution. In the coming days, 4000 tea growers will be able to benefit from this linkage.

To ensure access to credible information, trustea (the sustainability code for the Indian domestic tea market that IDH co-founded) is providing awareness posters, and guides on protective measures and do’s and don’ts to its partners and the country’s tea associations. With support of trustea, over 500 wall paintings and posters were created and distributed in tea gardens across the county. Through the use of technology, trustea has reached out in vernacular languages to over 4500 small tea growers through text messaging and the messaging feature of the ‘tracetea’ app on both protective measures against COVID-19, as well as on post-lockdown care of tea plants.


Supply chain commitment

As a good example from a tea buyer, Taylors of Harrogate has launched a COVID-19 tea and coffee supply chain commitment. The tea and coffee buyer offers certainty to their tea and coffee suppliers, and the workers, growers and communities, they have made a commitment to:

  • Set up a global humanitarian support fund of 500,000 GBP
  • Honour long-term agreements and contracts already in place and look to grow volumes where practical
  • Shortening payment terms and connecting suppliers to responsible credit providers where needed
  • Continue existing sustainability programmes
  • Report on these commitments on a monthly basis

IDH believes that supply chain commitments from companies are instrumental for the long-term outlook of many tea producers, as well as for short-term response on the ground, where lockdowns and social distancing measures are impacting the tea industry.

Keep in the know on critical COVID-19 impacts upon supply chains