True sustainability in tea production repeals monoculture

In the Netherlands, people drink an average of 3 cups of tea per day.  Sri Lanka is one of the well-known tea suppliers to the Netherlands. Sri Lankan tea is called Ceylon tea, due to the country’s official name until 1972.

Most of the current certification schemes for tea do not ensure sustainability of production of Ceylon tea. Plantation workers and farmers in cooperatives do not earn a living wage to support their families. Soils continue to be depleted, leading to erosion and decreasing harvests. In view of these issues, ProFound developed a truly sustainable value chain for Ceylon tea, going beyond the standard certification schemes.

Producing tea in a forest setting opens up income and food opportunities

ProFound supported a private tea estate and a tea cooperative to produce tea in a forest garden system. Our partners were Both Ends and Rainforest Rescue International. Different cash, food and soil improving trees were planted in the tea plantation. These plants support each other in one dynamic production system. For example, the trees provide shade to the tea, increasing quality and, as a result, price.

The project also provided estate worker communities with cattle. While the milk provided additional income and food, they could use the manure as natural fertilizer to minimize the dependence on external inputs.

ProFound Solutions for this story

“Together with ProFound, we transformed a tea plantation into a forest garden production system with various other trees, providing food and income to communities, improving soils and the quality of the tea. ProFound identified market opportunities and requirements, helped the producers to meet them, and established links between the producer and the market to get a higher price for certified, high-quality tea. In this way, we developed a scalable solution for other mono-culture production systems.”

– Ranil Senanayake (Rainforest Rescue International)

Key results of the project include:

  • A biodiverse and sustainable production system of tea, using less chemicals and substantially reducing erosion.
  • Improved income and new livelihood options for estate workers from their cattle and newly introduced tree crops.
  • Evidence that forest garden production of teas is a viable alternative.
  • A step-by-step approach to introducing forest garden systems, which can be applied to other plantations and monoculture crops around the world.

Our activities to develop a strategy for sustainable tea production in Sri Lanka included:

Women sorting tea leaves in Sri Lanka

Tea production in forest setting