The IDH Tea program brings together the largest tea packers and the most important NGOs in the tea sector. The program promotes sustainable tea production in Africa and Asia, and sustainable procurement in NW Europe and Asia. It has first-hand experience in up scaling of certification training and farmer field school (FFS) extension. The Tea program is strongly committed to working toward living wages in key tea-exporting countries. Other interventions are in the area of agro-chemical use and gender.

Since the start in 2008, IDH has invested in strategic relationships with a wide range of key tea players in Europe, Africa and Asia. After the successes in Kenya with farmer field schools in Kenya and Tanzania, the program is now moving towards harvesting the sector’s ‘higher-hanging fruits’: the impact that potentially can be made but has not yet.

The impact of the Tea program is concentrated in Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, India, and Vietnam. Across these geographical areas, issues that beg solutions vary widely. The Tea program implements a range of intervention logics, or problem-solving approaches, that propose solutions considerate of their context.

Impact claims

Through IDH, tea businesses have found an approach to better integrate smallholders into their supply chain, leading to a doubling of the profitability of these small tea producers by 2020.

IDH brings together a supply chain partnership, which realizes a living wage and living income in the Malawian tea industry by 2020. IDH will also underpin the need for a living wage in North-India through its trustea program.

IDH contributes to tea sustainability platforms in India and Vietnam, such as trustea (India), resulting in the removal of dangerous agrochemicals (WHO class 1 and 2) from tea production, improved worker welfare and an increase in smallholder livelihoods by 2020. 

Living Wages

Most pressingly, our goal is to attain a living wage for 50,000 Malawian tea workers by 2020. To achieve this, current wages will have to be doubled, and industry performance should improve across the board to bridge the wage gap.

With 50,000 tea workers, the tea sector of Malawi is the second-largest employer in the country – only behind the government – but fails to provide decent working conditions, including living wages. Currently, the sector does not deliver sufficient quality and quantity to be competitive in global tea trade.

In anticipation of the sector’s future, IDH, together with ETP, TAML, and Oxfam, convened a coalition of more than 20 organizations that publicly committed to a more profitable and competitive Malawian tea sector. This means producers should be enabled to pay living wages, and smallholders to earn a living income. Together, the coalition produces, trades, sells, and buys the vast majority of Malawian tea. Players include procurers, certification organizations, producer organizations, and government bodies. A formal governance structure is put in place and stakeholders evaluate progress annually during a meeting chaired by Malawi’s Minister of Agriculture.

Smallholder inclusion

Both in East-Africa (Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania), Vietnam and India, IDH has co-funded the roll- out of Farmer Field Schools and smallholder training programs.

In Tanzania, greenfield and brownfield smallholder farmers will be enabled to deliver high-quality green leaf through quality and production improvements. By means of Farmer Fields Schools and new service delivery models, buyers can secure a long-term quality supply of tea, and smallholders a sustainable living. Greenfield farmers grow crops other than tea and could gain from growing tea in addition to their current produce; brownfield farmers already grow tea, but require improvements in production techniques in order to attain a living income.

In Kenya, an increasing number of smallholder tea farmers gained certification. Moreover, smallholder farmers received training at Farmer Field Schools, enabling them to increase yields and improve their quality of production. Although the Tea program achieved significant progress in Kenya, a number of challenges persist. Addressing gender issues will be an important area of focus, for example.

In India, IDH supports smallholders and estates through trustea in improving the competitiveness of tea gardens by stimulating continuous improvement and improving the livelihoods of smallholders and estate workers. 

Promoting Responsible Agrochemical Management in the production of tea

In India and Vietnam, the IDH Tea program will promote responsible agrochemical management to reduce the level of toxic loading in the production of tea.

In India, plant protection codes stipulate the permitted types, quantity, and timing of agrochemicals used in the production of tea. Although a policy framework for toxic loading has been established policies will need to be put into practice and decisions reach the farmers that have to implement these policies. Too often, policy changes are announced and come into effect at the same time, which leaves no room for producers to adapt, if the announcement reaches them in the first place.

Policy regulations are important as they affect smallholder farmers; the health and safety of farmers and their communities are at stake. Policies regulate the types of protective equipment worn by farmers and the effect of toxic loading on their communities. A common drawback of toxic loading occurs, for example, when toxic waste flows into the community sewage system.

Where larger plantations are concerned, workers and their families typically live on site. For that reason, toxic loading immediately affects the community of the workers, as well as the ecosystem that surrounds the plantation.

In Vietnam, a significant portion of tea cannot be exported to the European Union. The maximum level of toxic residue in tea prescribed by the European Commission, is frequently exceeded by producers due to toxic loading. If producers stop spraying, however, their crops will be destroyed by insects and their incomes lost. Pest pressure is enormous, as natural diversity has almost entirely disappeared and monoculture prevails.

Cost-efficiency poses another challenge in Vietnam. When 10% of a field has been affected by a pest, farmers sometimes spray the entire field, even if spraying the affected areas and its borders would suffice. This approach results in unnecessary toxic loading.

The Tea program will identify and disseminate best practices among tea producers to reduce toxic loading.

As the Indian and Vietnamese governments become increasingly concerned about domestic food safety, pressure to change mounts. Food safety will become an increasingly important focus area for the Indian government with most of Indian-produced tea sold domestically.

Gender issues in the tea sector

To support the tea plantation sector in Kenya to find ways and mechanisms to deal with issues related to Gender Based Violence, IDH conducted a scoping visit to Kenya to see whether there was sufficient ground and motivation for the industry to work together on this. We are now in the process to set up a platform with several tea companies and expert organizations to address gender based violence issues and significantly reduce the occurrence of gender based violence in the Kenyan tea industry by 2020. In the meantime, we have commissioned a common training manual to address gender based violence in the tea industry. This manual is to align training and awareness raising material around gender based violence issues for the Kenyan tea industry. 

Relevant SDGs








Jordy van Honk

Program Director Landscapes Africa, Tea

phone+31 (0) 6 1481 1328

e-mailemail me

Judith Fraats

Program Manager Tea, Impact Lead Gender Equality and Empowerment

phone+31 (0) 6 1439 3413

e-mailemail me

Winnie Mwaniki

Senior Program Manager, ISLA (Kenya) and Coordinator Tea, East Africa

phone+31 (0) 30 230 5660

e-mailemail me

Daisy Vakarathiwe Kambalame

Country Coordinator, Malawi

phone+265 8888 30330

e-mailemail me

Sylvia Rutatina

Country Coordinator, Tanzania

phone+255 7845 5185 3

e-mailemail me

Marlies Huijssoon

Program Officer, Tea and Gender

phone+31 (0) 61 582 8499

e-mailemail me

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Landscape: South West Mau Forest - Kenya

Facts & Figures

Target 2020 1.5

Target 2016 1.5

Results 2016 3.7

IDH-private sector (sustainability) investments ratio

Target 2020 340.000

Target 2016 90.000

Result 2016 165.044

Number of producers/workers/ community members trained

Target 2020 350.000

Target 2016 160.000

Results 2016 94.975

Area where trained practices are applied (hectares)

Supported initiatives in Tea

  • Seeds of Prosperity Programme

    GAIN, Unilever, and IDH aim to improve the nutrition and health of tea farmers, workers and their families in the supply chains through the Seeds of Prosperity programme.

  • trustea

    A locally developed initiative to transform the domestic Indian tea industry; stimulating continuous improvement, and impacting the livelihoods of smallholders and workers.

  • Malawi Tea 2020

    Malawi Tea 2020 is a front-running coalition working together towards living wages and thriving smallholders in a profitable Malawian tea industry.


    TEAM UP is all about working together to solve sustainability issues in the tea industry. At the world’s number one tea and sustainability conference the whole value chain aims to accelerate change.

  • UNICEF Partnership in Assam

    A ground breaking collaboration to help protect and change the lives of children and young people living in tea communities in Assam

  • Kenya Tea Program

    A public-private partnership that aims to transform the Kenyan tea sector through training and certification of 560.000 KTDA smallholder tea farmers towards sustainable agricultural practices.

  • Smallholder Finance Facility

    Empowering smallholder farmers through value chain integration

Related projects

  • Improving agro-chemical use in Vietnamese Tea Production
    Visit project
  • Mufindi Out Grower Project
    Visit project
  • Farmer Field Schools: Training smallholder tea farmers
    Visit project
  • Improving prospects of young people in tea communities
    Visit project
  • Implementing a sustainability code for the Indian domestic market
    Visit project
  • Revitalisation programme towards living wage: Malawi Tea 2020
    Visit project

Working towards sustainable tea production and better livelihoods for smallholders and workers