diversifying tea farmer incomes Malawi
diversifying tea farmer incomes Malawi

Kuwala 'Shine'

This innovative programme has changed daily life for thousands of people on two tea estates, through the diversifying of income and providing access to sustainable light.

Supporting workers through community savings groups and solar light technology.

In Malawi – one of the world’s poorest countries – many of its 50,000 tea workers are still paid below the Living Wage benchmark, and less than 6% of rural households have electricity. 

On tea estates, many tea farmers struggle to do anything after dark, such as cooking and household chores, and children are unable to study. 

Kuwala – named after the Chichewa word for ‘shine’ – addressed this by introducing income diversification, savings groups, and sustainable solar lights to two tea estates. 

  • 2020-2022
  • Status: Completed

Project overview

Kuwala ran for three years and had two focus areas; to boost and diversify farmer incomes through savings groups, and improve their access to light. 

diversifying tea farmer incomes Malawi

In collaboration with Tata Consumer Products Ltd, Kuwala aimed to improve the lives and livelihoods of tea estate workers at their suppliers’ sites in Malawi (Eastern Produce Malawi and SATEMWA estates) 

Mavuto Banda explains the workings of a solar lamp, provided by the Kuwala initiative, to Beno Winesi. Mulanje District, Malawi. Image: ETP

We established Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) – groups that help tea estate communities sustainably address basic household needs, such as food, healthcare, education, and house improvements. They also help people start or upscale their own small businesses, to diversify their incomes. 

Meanwhile, distribution of solar lights allowed communities to extend their days and engage in activities after dark they were not able to do before. This proved particularly useful to complete chores and help children with homework.  

Beno Winesi and her daughter read by a solar lamp provided by the Kuwala initiative. Thyolo District, Malawi. Image: ETP.

The activities of the project were successfully completed, with the final evaluation highlighting that: 

  • The programme was effective, improving participants’ ability to meet their basic needs and become resilient to climate change.
  • Group members were able to increase their savings and access credit, nutritious food, and economic resources.
  • Group members increased their understanding of, and desire to solve gendered community issues.

A sustainability plan was also put in place to ensure continuation of Kuwala’s results into the future. 

Key achievements

Pico Solar Lamps distributed to tea workers and their families


tea workers trained in maintenance and repair of lamps by sustainable energy consultancy, Wupla Enterprise


active Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs)


active VSLA members (more than half women)


of participants reported an increase of their income, of which 51% were women


of participants diversified their income