April, 2023

Earth Day 2023

Insights from our Environment & Climate Lead on our holistic approach to environmental issues.

Our Environment & Climate Lead, Rachel Cracknell, details our holistic approach to environmental issues, recognising the interconnectedness of the challenges faced by tea communities.

At ETP, our Strategy2030 is designed to create a positive impact across three areas: the economics of tea; equality for women and young people in tea; and the environmental sustainability of tea.

In recent years, I’ve been excited to see the growing recognition amongst our members and partners of the intersectionality of these issues, and the need for an interdisciplinary approach to our initiatives. That is, a move away from traditional, ‘silo’ projects that focus on just one impact area, to developing opportunities that cross-cut all three.

“I’ve been excited to see the growing recognition amongst our members and partners of the intersectionality of issues.”

As the theme for this year’s Earth Day is ‘Invest in Our Planet’, I want to reflect for a moment on how we approach environmental projects at ETP and how we ensure that our impact is far-reaching – spanning economic and gender outcomes too.

This is most evident in our approach to Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES is a tool used to help environmental conservation whilst supporting people’s livelihoods. A PES programme creates opportunities for a financial reward to be provided to a landowner for providing an environmental service. This can range from forest conservation to biodiversity protection.

Environmental degradation, exacerbated by poverty and climate change, is a common challenge in many tea growing regions and especially impacts smallholder farmers. PES provides an opportunity to support farmers to address these environmental challenges whilst boosting their incomes.

In Malawi, tea farming is threatened by climate change and economic factors, which are disproportionately felt by women. Extensive deforestation, combined with climate change and associated changes to rainfall patterns, has led to extreme flooding, soil erosion, and loss of soil fertility, damaging crops and reducing farmers’ incomes.

“In Malawi, tea farming is threatened by climate change and economic factors, which are disproportionately felt by women.”

Tree planting is a key way to build climate resilience. Planting trees to shade areas where tea is grown reduces the impacts of increasing temperatures and extended droughts. Planting fruit trees helps improve farmers’ diets and offers an additional income stream.

Whilst nearly all the farmers in Malawi we speak to understand these benefits and are keen to plant trees, it is difficult for them to justify dedicating space on their small plots of land when their tea bushes and other annual cash crops already provide a much needed and immediate income.

We’ve listened to the Malawian tea farmers and are looking at how to adapt a PES model to meet their needs; financially incentivising farmers to plant trees to reverse the impact of climate change. We’re exploring a project that will go beyond environmental and economic outcomes, and also tackle gender equality issues. Our aim is to initially involve 20,000 farmers in Malawi, before then scaling up our approach globally.

“We’ve listened to the Malawian tea farmers and are adapting a Payment for Ecosystem Services model to meet their needs.”

In 2022, we collaborated on a research partnership in Malawi through the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office’s Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW) Programme, that highlighted the gendered impacts of climate change.

Women tea farmers have less access to climate information and economic resources than their male counterparts, limiting their ability to adapt to the changing landscape.

We plan on addressing this by putting women at the centre of our approach. Given the inequalities in household decision-making power, we will pay particular attention on how to best ensure that any additional income earnt by women farmers provides them with the maximum benefits.

We know the challenges are vast and that systemic change will not happen overnight. But we believe that by listening to farmers and communities and working collectively, we can realise our vision of a tea sector that is thriving, socially just, and environmentally sustainable.

Click here to learn more about our global work on environmental sustainability, as part of our Strategy2030.