Rainforest Alliance Certified Tea
Originating in China, tea has been a popular pick-me-up for thousands of years. Black, green and other teas are made from the leaves of the same plant, Camellia sinensis, which grows in tropical and subtropical regions around the world. India, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil and other countries export large volumes of the dried and shredded leaf. About six million acres (2.4 million hectares) are planted in tea, often in large plantations called "estates."
Tea consumption is increasing thanks to news about its health benefits, but production has been growing even faster, resulting in an oversupply and depressed prices for farmers.
The Rainforest Alliance launched its tea certification program in 2007. The first Rainforest Alliance Certified farm was Kericho, an estate in Kenya that is owned by Unilever and supplies the company's Lipton and PG Tips brands.
Like any tropical crop, tea raises a number of environmental and social issues, each with a cost/benefit balance that can be tipped in a positive direction. Tea grows year-round, employing a lot of people, especially pluckers who carefully pick the top three or so leaves from every branch on the bush. The industry is an important employer and it faces challenges around wages, labor organization, housing, health care and other rights and benefits.
Tea farming replaces biodiversity-rich tropical forests with a beautiful, but single-species, monoculture. Soil erosion, competition for water, pollution from fertilizers and the need for firewood to fuel tea dryers are some of the main environmental concerns. By following the Sustainable Agriculture Network standards, growers can proactively address social and environmental challenges. The Rainforest Alliance organized multi-stakeholder meetings in Kenya to gather input on the standards, ensuring that they are as effective for tea as they have been for coffee, bananas and other crops.