The Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme
Malawi is one of Africa’s biggest tea producers. Tea plays a vital role in the country’s economy, providing more than 60,000 people with their livelihoods.
It’s a beautiful place, with spectacular highlands and lakes, and the towering Mount Mulanje standing at the geographical centre of much of the country’s tea production. It’s also one of the world’s poorest countries, with 70% of the population living below the World Bank’s poverty line.
The Malawian economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, but the industry faces a number of huge challenges. Climate change and rising temperatures are having a dramatic impact on land use, productivity and farmers’ incomes. This is compounded by rapid population growth, environmental degradation and energy shortages.
Supporting female workers
Women make up about 30% of Malawi’s tea industry
Malawi is also a country in which women face unequal access to education, economic opportunity and power, and can be vulnerable to harassment and discrimination. Women make up about 30% of Malawi’s tea industry, primarily in tea picking and factory roles. Yet most are supervised by men, and a lack of effective processes to protect women’s rights can increase vulnerability to exploitation and present barriers in progressing to more senior roles.
It’s against this backdrop that we’ve been supporting ‘Malawi 2020’ – the Malawi 2020 Tea Revitalisation Programme. Launched in 2015, it brought together producers, workers’ unions, buyers, NGOs, The Ethical Tea Partnership and development partners with a shared commitment: making Malawi’s tea industry competitive and profitable, with workers earning a living wage and smallholders earning a living income. As part of this, the project also set out to support female empowerment, to help address barriers to progress.
We set up a guarantee of minimum floor pricing – at a level above the Fairtrade minimum price – plus an additional premium for quality. This supports the ability of suppliers to pay better wages to workers and growers, and it typically leads to the growing of better tea and more of it, which in turn can lead to increased income.
We have extended a commitment to closing the living wage gap across our entire supply chain. Since 2015, the project in Malawi has helped to close the living wage gap there 33%.
Alongside this, Malawi 2020 has led to a wide range of initiatives to support climate change adaptation and improve livelihoods. One example of this is Farmer Field Schools, in which farmers who’ve learned climate-smart farming methods share that knowledge with others, leading to improved agricultural practices and farm resilience. Another is Community Saving Schemes, which have enabled people, particularly women, to invest in new entrepreneurial opportunities to increase their income.
Sector-wide Gender Equality
Malawi 2020 also led to the first ever sector-wide Gender Equality, Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Policy, the establishment of Women’s Welfare and Gender Committees, and the hiring of a Gender Co-ordinator to advance gender awareness.
Over the years, we’ve seen first-hand the impact the project has had on the people and communities we depend on for our tea. But the country still faces significant challenges. Life remains hard for much of its population and achieving the scale of change needed is the work of decades, not years.
However, we’re in it for the long haul. Firm foundations have started to be laid, relationships have been built and much has been learned – and by continuing our work in Malawi, we can continue to support the journey to a stronger, fairer and more sustainable Malawian tea industry.