The newly launched programme will start with supporting 1,500 farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices, diversify production, and achieve a living income.
IDH is proud to announce the commencement of a living income project which aims to support the livelihoods of small tea growers (STGs) in the Assam tea sector, who contribute 52% of tea produced in the state.
This initiative builds on IDH’s Living Income Roadmap, which seeks to establish a robust model that enhances the profitability of tea farming for STGs within consumer goods company Unilever’s supply chain, while also fostering investments in product diversification.
The project will initially work with four bought leaf factories (BLFs) in the districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia and approximately the 1,500 STGs associated with the factories.
IDH and Unilever meticulously designed this project, having conducted a joint study to understand income levels and leverage IDH Living Income tools to strategically identify pathways to bridge income gaps.
Key features of the project include:
- Promoting good agricultural practices: The project will equip STGs with sustainable agricultural practices, optimizing resource utilization and reducing agrochemical usage. These practices will not only boost profit margins and yields but also contribute to improved soil health, enhanced farm profitability, and superior water quality.
- Elevating tea quality and sustainability: Focused training interventions to uplift the quality of tea leaves produced by STGs. Training modules encompass plucking, pruning, cold weather practices, mechanization, and other sustainable and regenerative agricultural techniques. These endeavours will result in better quality tea leaves while maintaining a steadfast commitment to environmental stewardship. The select BLFs are in turn committed to paying a better price to the STGs for improved quality.
- Enabling product diversification and income resilience: Recognizing the importance of supplementary income, the project will guide STGs towards non-tea farm produce diversification. Comprehensive training in diversification strategies, access to finance, timely inputs, crop advisory services, and market linkages will empower STGs to secure income resilience, especially during lean production seasons.
Jagjeet Singh Kandal, Country Director of IDH India, said: “At IDH, we believe in the power of partnerships to bring about meaningful change. This collaboration underscores our commitment to advancing living incomes, ensuring that Small Tea Growers in Assam thrive and prosper.”
Jatin Bavishi, Program Manager of the Small Tea Growers Sustainability Program (STGSP) of IDH said: “STGs are an important stakeholder to the economy of Assam. If the STGs do not earn a sustainable income this will have a huge impact on the future supply of tea and also millions of jobs and livelihoods in the supply chain. The current project will provide us with a working model to improve household incomes, environmental sustainability and diversifying economic opportunities for the STGs.”
Megan Willis, Head of Sustainable Sourcing at Unilever, said: “At Unilever, we rely on smallholder farmers for a sustainable supply of key ingredients used in our products, which makes their wellbeing and livelihoods important to us. Since 2010, Unilever has supported more than 800,000 smallholder farmers around the world to improve their agricultural practices and increase their livelihoods through our sourcing strategies and smallholder programmes. With like-minded partners such as IDH, we continue to evolve our approach to delivering positive impact in this critical segment of our value chain, towards our goal of enabling a living income for farmers and achieving 100% sustainable sourcing of our key agricultural commodities.”
Mandeepsingh Tuli, Procurement Director, Nutrition and Ice Cream South Asia, Unilever said: “The launch of our living income project is the first of its kind within the Indian tea industry, and is already delivering groundbreaking insights into the unique income drivers for STGs in Assam. These learnings enable us and our implementation partners to offer farmers tailored programmes and resources that will help them to protect their land and livelihoods, and ensure a thriving tea sector for generations to come.”
To ensure effective implementation, the project will employ the Agri-Entrepreneur Model, in which a rural youth is trained as an Agri-Entrepreneur to act as a one-stop service provider for the agricultural needs of STGs, which includes quality agricultural inputs, crop advisory, supporting market linkages and facilitating access to finance to the farmers. Implementing partners, including Action for Food Production (AFPRO) and Agri Entrepreneur Growth Foundation (AEGF), will work in tandem to drive the project’s transformative impact.
The initial phase of the project is planned to continue until the end of 2025, at which point its outcomes will be evaluated to inform scaling strategies for subsequent years.