April, 2024

Reflections on Earth Day 2024 & our flagship environmental programme

A tea farmer gently packs the soil around a tree in Mulanje, southern Malawi.
A tea farmer gently packs the soil around a tree in Mulanje, southern Malawi.
A tea farmer gently packs the soil around a tree in Mulanje, southern Malawi.

Earth Day is not just another gimmicky marketing opportunity for a specific item or brand to boost their sales. Earth Day is a sign of climate protection commitment, and a chance to rally action, raising awareness of what can and should be done to mitigate the effects of our planetary crisis.

This Earth Day, at ETP we want to spotlight our Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) programme and its innovative approach to simultaneously increasing climate resilience whilst enhancing household incomes for Malawian tea smallholder farmers. This three-year pilot, developed through research conducted with the Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW) Programme by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), is made possible by support from Tata Consumer Products Ltd, Ringtons Ltd, and Taylors of Harrogate. Combining environment and economics is a delicate task, but by monetarily incentivising farmers to plant trees around their tea farms and homes, we are also striving for equal empowerment within communities whereby women are supported to participate in development activities and make autonomous decisions at both household and community levels. Taking steps to protect our environment is only sustainable if we are making life more equitable for its inhabitants.

Why Malawi?

“Our baseline evaluation, involving 372 farmers between December 2023 to January 2024, brought to light that 70% of the smallholder farmers who participated in Mulanje and Thyolo were reporting that climate change had impacted the quality of the tea they produce.”

The climate crisis is having a huge impact on tea; plantations are most commonly affected by dry spells, reducing both the yield and quality of harvest significantly. For instance, there was a drought in January and February this year, which pushed back some of the PES programmes activities, such as some of the tree-planting itself.

The results of the baseline indicate that a general awareness of payment for ecosystem services is there, but that there remains a lack of understanding in carbon crediting, and only 63% of farmers were earning any income from planting trees.

Why tree-planting?

A disclaimer upfront – PES is not just about tree-planting, this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of this project’s scope and potential. However, it is a very necessary and valuable first step, because of the myriad benefits it has to the environment and its relative ease of implementation. Planting trees helps remove excess carbon from the atmosphere and contribute fresh oxygen, whilst their roots protect from soil erosion. Trees provide natural barriers and shade, which supports the increase of tea crops yield and quality. Furthermore, promoting this new growth helps provide biodiversity and natural habitats.

What impact does the Payment for Ecosystem Services programme aim to achieve, and what is it already achieving?

The PES pilot programme began in September 2023; already, it is bringing about change:

  • PES has been approved by two District Agricultural Executive Coordination Committees (DAECCs).
  • Trained key stakeholders on Rabobank’s Agroforestry Carbon removal units for the Organic Restoration of Nature (ACORN) data collection tool.
  • Onboarded 1,700 farmers to the programme, 967 being enrolled by ACORN.
  • Conducted a baseline study.
  • Identified 35 lead farmers for easy methodology facilitation.
  • Conducted training of trainers for tree planting and management.
  • Distributed 95,771 seedlings under the programme.

But this is only the beginning, 2024 has a lot more in store; across the next six months, we’re aiming to:

  1. Continue tree distribution and planting.
  2. Complete the farmer focused business toolkit and family business management toolkit. Utilise both toolkits.
  3. Conduct farmer trainings on tree planting and management.
  4. Establish nursery structures in both Thuchira Tea Association (TTA) and Sukambizi Association Trust (SAT).
  5. Organise a conference on carbon initiative in collaboration with the government, FCDO and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
  6. Provide refresher training on ACORN data collection; and
  7. Farmer onboarding.

“The aim is to have, in 2024, a direct reach of 21,000 farmers, and to supply 250,000 seedlings to smallholders supplying Lujeri Tea Estate, by expanding SAT’s nursery.”