Tour the First Rainforest Alliance Certified™ Tea Estate
The first tea estate to become Rainforest Alliance Certified™, Unilever Tea Kenya's Kericho Estate covers nearly 32,000 acres (13,000 hectares).
With 16,000 employees providing for roughly 65,000 dependants, the estate is an important source of jobs in the region, where unemployment rates hover around 20 percent.
Rael Cheket Limo has worked as a picker for Unilever Tea Kenya since 2004. "We're very happy at the moment," says Limo, who lives in company housing with her husband and two daughters.
In his late 60s, Samuel Kasera, is a retired picker who returns to the estate occasionally to earn extra income. "I like the work very much," he laughs, when asked why he continues to work on the estate. "It helps me stay alive!"
Every two hours, pickers head to the weighing station to see how much they have collected. They sort through the leaves beforehand, removing any wilted or "non-recommended" leaves from their stashes.
Employees collect about 22 lbs. (10 kg) every two-hour cycle -- significant, since they're paid a fixed sum per pound of tea plucked. Typically, Unilever Tea Kenya employees earn three times more than the local agricultural minimum wage.
Unilever Tea Kericho gets 97 percent of its energy from renewable sources, most of it from fuel wood plantations and company-owned hydropower stations. The company aims to continue reducing its dependence on grid electricity.
Employees on Unilever Tea Kenya's Kericho Estate are given free company housing that is equipped with running water and cement floors.
Children of employees have access to education in company-owned schools. Here, teacher Steven Okombo poses with his third grade class.
Students on the estate have high hopes for the future. Lawrence Odour, 14, would like to become a civil engineer; Irene Atieno, 13, anticipates a career as a manager for Unilever.
Daisy Akiru, age 10, is a diligent student in Steven Okombo's class.
Betty Maritim, the "hospital matron" at Unilever Tea Kenya's Central Hospital.
Employees on the Unilever Tea Kenya estate have access to free health care, a well-equipped hospital (pictured) and a number of pharmacies.
A patient at Unilever Tea Kenya Central Hospital, Kennedy Okeyo has cellulitis (a bacterial skin infection) on his leg. At the time this photograph was taken, Kennedy had been hospitalized for two days.
Another important element of Unilever Tea Kenya's sustainability plans: restoring the indigenous forest and ensuring that a belt of at least 98 feet of forest surrounds all rivers and ponds.
To further its goal of restoring indigenous forests, Unilever Tea Kenya has a dedicated nursery for the cultivation of forest trees. Since 2000, it has planted and distributed three-quarters of a million indigenous trees for reforestation.
Peter Ongoma, the head gardener on the estate, oversees the planting. "We are very proud to be the first Kenyan tea estate to be Rainforest Alliance Certified," he says. "It's very important for the future of this landscape."
The Unilever Tea Kenya Kericho Estate features a monkey sanctuary, run by Sila Keter.
Local wildlife are benefiting from the sanctuary and the increase in forest cover -- the population of colobus, vervet and red-tailed monkeys is growing. A recent survey by the National Museums of Kenya identified 174 different bird species on the estate.
The majority of the tea cultivated on the estate goes into Unilever tea products, sold under national and global brands like Lipton, PG tips and Lyons. By 2015, the forward-thinking company aims to source 100 percent of its Lipton tea sold in tea bags from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.