True sustainability requires tea to move away from monoculture

In the Netherlands, people drink on average 3 cups of tea per day. Sri Lanka is a well-known tea supplier to the Netherlands. Sri Lankan tea is called Ceylon tea (the country was called Ceylon until 1972). Most of the current certification schemes for tea do not ensure sustainability of tea production in Sri Lanka. Plantation workers and farmers in cooperatives still do not earn a living wage to support their families. Also, soils continue to be depleted, leading to erosion and decreasing harvests. ProFound developed a truly sustainable value chain, which goes beyond these certifications.

Producing tea in a forest-setting provides additional income and food

ProFound supported a private tea estate and a tea cooperative to produce tea in a forest garden system together with partners 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 price.

Solutions for this story

Communities of estate workers were also provided with cattle. They could use the milk for additional income and food, while manure was used as natural fertilizer to make the production system less dependent on external inputs.

Key results of the project included:

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

ProFound Solutions for sustainable tea production in Sri Lanka

  • Market analysis: market studies to identify opportunities and challenges for sustainable tea on the European market and buyers interested in teas produced in a truly sustainable production system.
  • Business Planning: supported a tea estate to introduce a forest garden system.

Monoculture production systems hurt the environment and the communities working on plantations. 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)