IDH has been active in the tea sector for ten years. Over these years, we have been addressing core sustainable issues.

We have built partnerships across issues ranging from living wage and working conditions, to gender issues including gender-based violence, to living income and smallholder profitability, to climate change and deforestation. Through our partnerships and joint roadmaps, we are working step by step in prominent tea producing regions in Africa and Asia on sustainable production, and on sustainable procurement in Western Europe and Asia.

Addressing gender-based violence

The Women’s Safety Accelerator Fund (WSAF) enables a safe and empowering workplace for women workers. Through WSAF, investing companies address gender-based violence in agricultural value chains. The goal is to implement the UN Women Global Women’s Safety Framework in Rural Spaces and ensure that ‘all women and girls are socially, economically, and politically empowered in rural spaces that are free from sexual harassment and other forms of violence’.


Through the global tea program, IDH is working on the following areas:

Over the recent years, large tea packers and producers have made a significant shift to becoming more open to pre-competitive collaboration, to be able to jointly tackle sustainability issues that cannot be dealt with as a single company. This allows IDH to step in and play its convening role to further address sustainability in the tea value chain. IDH is investing in pilots and innovations on the sector level, but also through partnerships with individual companies.

Through our work in East Africa, we are convening the industry to address complex sustainability issues. IDH is also addressing gender and gender-based violence issues in the Kenyan tea sector, through the multi-stakeholder Gender Empowerment Platform. In India, IDH works on domestic market transformation through trustea, income improvement of small tea growers, and on improving the lives of people in tea communities by addressing women and girls’ safety.

In Rwanda, Tanzania and Vietnam, IDH focus is on smallholder inclusion and health and safety. In the South West Mau landscape, in Kenya, we work together with large tea plantations in the area to conserve and restore 60,000 hectares of forest.



Through our experience working in the field, IDH has developed several practical tools to support businesses in working on issues related to gender and living wage. Have a look below to find some of these we use in tea:

To raise the bar for sustainability in the global tea industry, we are bringing tea producers and packers together. Only in collaboration we can work on a global sustainability agenda.

Find out more

Living Wage and Working Conditions

After starting the journey towards a competitive and profitable Malawian tea sector where workers earn a living wage and smallholders are earn a living income, the Malawi Tea 2020 coalition is making progress. The coalition, which comprises companies all along the tea value chain including producers, retailers, unions, NGOs, and government agencies, has successfully narrowed the gap between current wages and a living wage. Since the October 2014 baseline, the gap has now been closed by 29%, which means that cur­rent take-home pay is at 66% of a living wage. As part of our work on revitalizing the industry, producer companies have invested over EUR 14 million in their businesses to improve the quality of their product. Through efforts of our CSO partners and the Tea Association of Malawi, workers have access to improved nutrition and housing. For more results, see our annual progress report 2019.

In September 2019, IDH published the Sus­tainable Procurement Kit (SPK), which allows companies to assess their contribution to the payment of a living wage in a sector. The SPK has been piloted in the Malawi Tea 2020 program and is a standardized tool that can be scaled up to other tea origins and sectors.

“Only by understanding the impact of purchasing decisions on suppliers’ ability to pay a living wage, can we hope to create more sustainable procurement practices. The IDH Sustainable Procurement Kit aims to support buyers in this understanding. For example on the economic consequences for producers’ sourcing strategies. This will also help to better enable realistic and sustainable living wage targets to be set and met.”

Will Battle

Senior sustainable procurement advisor, and former tea buyer


Smallholder Inclusion

IDH is working with its partners on addressing issues related to smallholder profitability, good agricultural practice and responsible use of pesticides. Through smallholder Service Delivery Model (SDM) analyses, IDH gains a deeper understanding how services are provided to farmers and how to further improve these models making them future proof. Click on the countries to find out about IDH smallholder work in each geography.


In Tanzania, IDH and Unilever Tea Tanzania are working on the since 2014. The objective of the project is to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the villages surrounding Unilever Tea Tanzania estates.

Through the project we are also supporting the integration of the tea supply within Unilever Tea Tanzania (UTT), through increasing tea productivity and quality, expanding the smallholder supply base and strengthening farmer organizations. The service provision and commercial activities are closely integrated, which ensures internal alignment between activities and which allows UTT to use some of their resources and knowledge more efficiently. The payment of a quality bonus for green leaf, coupled with training and strict quality requirements attract farmers to the SDM and improve loyalty rates and quality of the leaf. As a result of our project, brownfield farmer productivity has increased with 55% and income has increased with 196%. For more findings, read our SDM analysis with Unilever Tea Tanzania.

“The training on Good Agricultural Practices and input loans from IDH and Unilever Tea Tanzania help me to pluck on time, apply fertilizer and enable to infill tea at my farm. This improves the quality of my tea. Next to this, I have increased my production from 150 to 200 kg green leaf per acre per month to about 500 kg. The quality bonus payment increased my income and made it possible to pay college fees for my daughter. It also enabled me to purchase 5.5 acres of land, a tank, water pump and a generator and pipes for irrigating the farm.”

Edina Joseph Mbinda

tea smallholder farmer in Mufindi, Tanzania


In Rwanda, IDH and The Wood Foundation Africa (TWFA) have worked together to strengthen the tea value chain until 2018. Together with the Mulindi and Shagasha smallholder tea farmers we focussed on green leaf quality and yield enhancement, capacity development and training, and certification, reaching over 8,000 farmers. For more insights, read our SDM analysis with The Wood Foundation Africa.

In Malawi, as part of Malawi Tea 2020, we are working with the Ethical Tea Partnership to improve the incomes and livelihoods of tea smallholder farmers. There has been great progress in this program, through which almost 9,000 smallholder farmers have been reached through Farmer Field Schools (FFS). Data has shown that adoption of the good agricultural practices learned in the FFS has led to a yield increase of nearly 22% in that year and of 41% in the season after graduating. FFS farmers also had a higher percentage of green leaf rated as ‘good’ (73%) compared to non-FFS farmers (56%) in the year after graduation.


We started a pilot agri-entrepreneurs program for small tea growers in Assam, India in 2019. This is building on IDH’s work on domestic market transformation in the Indian tea industry through trustea. The agri-entrepreneurs program provides a diverse set of services to small tea growers, including access to inputs, finance and diversification. The program is part of a multi-sector approach, together with the IDH spices and cotton programs in India and the Syngenta Foundation, to improve incomes of smallholder farmers in the region.


In Vietnam, IDH is working on health and safety issues that affect smallholder farmers. Through the establishment of an innovative model for responsible agrochemical management, the Agri-team model, around 8,000 farmers are provided with a proper set of agrochemicals, spraying services or monitoring farmers’ spraying activities. In 2020, IDH will engage in further sector convening through its role as co-chair of the Public-Private Partner­ship Task Force for Tea in Vietnam, together with Unilever and the Department of Crop Production, providing pos­sibilities for further rollout of learnings from our earlier programs in Vietnam to the wider sector. Read more about the activities in Vietnam here.

Gender Equality and Empowerment

In 2016, IDH convened producers, technical experts, and civil society organizations under the Gender Empowerment Platform (GEP), to work on gender equality and empowerment in the Kenyan tea sector. Representing the majority of the companies in the Kenyan tea industry, the GEP has the ambitious goal to significantly reduce the occurrence of GBV, as well as to increase women’s empowerment in the Kenyan tea industry, by 2020. Read our achievements and reflections here.

We are also using our experience from Kenya to strengthen our work in the plantation sector in Malawi and India.

We have sought input of our GEP partners on the best practices available in addressing gender and GBV issues in the plantation sector, and have captured this in the Plantation Roadmap: a practical document that provides information to companies on how to recognize issues around gender based violence and sexual harassment, and to develop sustainable interventions to prevent and respond accordingly. To support awareness-raising on the ground, we have developed, one aligned Common Training Manual on addressing GBV.

On an individual company level, as well as on a sector level, clear gender and HR policies can help advancing gender equality and ensure a more motivated workforce, also by reducing absenteeism, overtime hours and turnover.

Participant, IDH4Gender cross-learning event June 2018 (more info)

Through our field-level projects in Kenya, we have been reaching over 10,000 workers and 30,000 smallholders on issues related to GBV awareness, financial literacy and female leadership.

As part of our work on the ground, together with Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) we have published a brief on financial inclusion in the Kenyan tea sector, which notes that lack of joint decision-making in the household is one of the causes of GBV. In 2019, we partnered with Unilever Tea Kenya and BSR to roll out a HER finance training program to over 3,000 workers. Our cooperation between BSR and UTK saw an increase in open communications between spouses on finances. More results on the program can be read here.

To further re­spond to the root causes of GBV in a smallholder setting, we started an economic empowerment program with the Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KTDA), in which we are developing a gender-responsive curriculum on financial inclusion, including household decision-making modules.

In Malawi, together with our partner TAML we launched and support the implementation of the first ever gender policy on all estates in the tea sector. 809 workers and managers have now been engaged through peer education training courses, to reach out to the workforce. In 2019, we convened a gender symposium with private-sector and CSO partners, at which the Malawian Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare was also present. During the sym­posium, an action plan for the sector and all individual plantations was developed.

In India, a focus is to making women and children less vulnerable and improving the livelihoods of community members. With the launch of the “Improving the lives of women and children in Assam’s tea communities” program (in collaboration with Unicef and ETP), tea plantations and the broader tea community in Assam are engaged to promote and integrate human rights to address gender-based violence within the business practices of the tea industry. Click here for more information on the program.

Domestic Transformation in India

trustea is an initiative co-founded by IDH, Hindustan Unilever, Tata Global Beverages, Wagh Bakri and civil society organizations, focusing on sustainable domestic market transformation in the Indian tea industry. Based on industry realities and globally accepted sustainability principles, the program advocates the implementation of a voluntary sustainability code, the trustea code, for the Indian domestic tea market. Read our publication Stories from the Field, highlighting insights on improvements for factories, gardens, workers and small tea-growers brought about through the trustea program over the last six years.

Up until 2019, trustea has verified 608 million kg of tea, which is almost half (48%) of the total tea produced in India annually. With a new phase ahead, the trustea sustainable tea foundation has been established, managing the day to day, being steered by a newly formed trustea sustainable tea council, a multi-stakeholder body.

Mitigation of Deforestation

IDH is working in the South West Mau Forest in Kenya to conserve and restore 60,000 hectares, as a crucial water tower to the tea industry. To date, we have built a strong coalition made up of the county governments, tea, energy and timber companies as well as a range of civil society and knowledge institutions. To conserve and restore the forest, James Finlay Kenya, Unilever Tea Kenya Ltd and the Kenya Tea Development Agency are contributing in this coalition. We have launched the Stawisha Mau Charitable Trust to ensure the program is sustained in the long run.

An external evaluation published in May 2019 confirmed that IDH has successfully restored degraded forest. Compared to the reference period (2000-2014, before IDH interventions), the rate of forest degradation from 2014-2018 was 22.6% lower; forest regeneration was 22.7% higher; and net emissions from forest cover change were 89% lower.

In Malawi, we are currently scoping a landscape program together with the tea industry, to address deforestation and soil erosion in the Mount Mulanje area.

Contact us for more information

Working towards sustainable tea production and better livelihoods for smallholders and workers.

Relevant SDGs

  • No Poverty
  • Zero Hunger
  • Gender Equality
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Partnership for the Goals