The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said the tea sector should get more public and private investments given its potential to fight poverty and hunger, particularly in rural communities.
FAO recently celebrated International Tea Day 2023 at its Rome headquarters where it trained the spotlight on smallholder tea producers and their importance for the sustainability of the sector.
“We want to celebrate their achievements, but also raise awareness about the significant challenges they face, and the urgent need to mobilize political will to support them,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu.
“We must all work together and leverage all possible means, including increased and targeted public and private investments, to transform the tea sector.”
FAO noted that tea is the world’s most consumed drink, after water, and can bring health benefits and wellness to consumers. Over the past decades, the global tea industry has seen rapid growth, with a remarkable rising number of consumers globally. Especially, tea consumption by the youth segment of the market has expanded.
Additionally, the tea sector contributes to socioeconomic development, representing a major source of employment and income for millions of poor families worldwide.
Global tea production amounts to over $18 billion annually. Around 13 million people are involved in global tea production. It is estimated that in the four major producing countries (China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka), around 9 million tea farmers are smallholders.
Smallholders, many of whom are women, account for 60 percent of global tea production and they are the “backbone” of sector, the FAO official said. He said “tea constitutes the main source of subsistence for millions of poor families, mostly in lower-income countries,” but they face several challenges, including low farm gate prices, weak extension services, limited market channels, poor access to credit and technology, and obstacles to meet quality standards.
“We need to build on these developments and make every effort to ensure that the tea sector benefits smallholder growers and rural communities, not only in the short, but also in the longer term.”
Qu also said small-scale tea operations should constantly innovate and explore new ways of doing things better in order to remain viable in an increasingly competitive market setting.
“Digitalization and innovation-driven solutions, as well as access to finance, are essential to the future sustainability of the tea sector and to increase its contribution to the 2030 Agenda and achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. This is where support is needed most.”
In his address to the ceremony the Minister for Plantation Industries of Sri Lanka Ramesh Pathirana, said Sri Lanka is one of the four largest tea producing countries, while smallholders take major part of the tea sector. However, economic downturns in the recent years have impacted the tea production, while the country has started to promote digital solutions to help tea farmers improve tea quality and quantity.