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Sipping Towards Sustainability, part III

by Ali Roth October 24, 2020



Money talks.  And how we spend our money matters. 

Our current way of life incentivizes businesses to produce as much as possible at the lowest cost, regardless of the impact it has.  This cannot continue.  And, while I can only change how I live and operate, there is a growing movement focused on the importance of economic sustainability. 

Industry has expected farmers to produce tea at rock-bottom prices for too long, and the impact is immeasurable.  With the rise of globalization and access to information, generations of young people are leaving historically tea-producing areas to move to city centers for education.  Few opt to return to farming.  While everyone has the right to choose their own path, it is important to acknowledge and address the reasons young people are choosing to not return to tea farms.  For many, tea is no longer viewed as capable of providing a viable source of income.  And sadly, generations of traditional knowledge is leaving with them.  

However, around the world tea farmers are embracing the ease of global communication and using it to expand their outreach and educate consumers in their push for transparency.  It’s now common place for tea producers to have direct access to consumers around the globe, allowing them to sell at retail prices and retain their profits.  Traditional economic structures are being shifted and the result is benefiting smaller tea farmers and producers.  With this new networking capability more young people are seeing the potential to make small farms more profitable while incentivizing quality.

I’ve also seen communities come together to buy and build shared factories, allowing them to collectively process and finish their teas so that they can bring it to market instead of auctioning them for a fraction of the price.  Rather than relying on large distributors, they can preserve both their profits and the quality of their teas.  The act of collectivizing resources creates more opportunities for smaller farms and helps uplift entire communities.  The impact is revitalizing areas that have been depressed and taken for granted.

It’s been especially inspiring to see an increase in first-generation tea farmers and young people who have left technology jobs in the city to return to the soil. In Taiwan, India, and Japan there’s been a slow but steady return to tea-producing areas that were until recently abandoned. A friend in Japan moved to Kamikatsu from Osaka to try his hand at producing Awa Bancha, a skill that had nearly died out, and was able to bring back a hillside of abandoned tea plants. Another group of young farmers in Nagasaki banded together to build a shared, zero-emission factory where they were able to finish their teas and bring them to market without losing most of the profits to distributors.  Efforts in Nepal have revitalized an entire tea producing area that was largely left behind, creating jobs and opportunities.

Companies like Blue Willow are shifting to supporting these efforts directly, paying higher premiums for tea that was once sold through middlemen.  This shift is working to prove that tea production can thrive economically and is helping to pave the way towards a more financially sustainable future for small farmers around the world.  The excess costs to businesses like ours are well worth it.  Being able to directly support these endeavors is one way of ensuring the legacy of small scale, quality tea farming can continue. 

Ali Roth
Ali Roth


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