Members of the Wessanen UK team travelled to India recently to visit Clipper Teas’ long-standing tea estate partners in the Nilgiris Mountains.
The trip provided the valuable opportunity to witness first-hand the impact Fairtrade has on workers, their families and the communities they live in. In this region, 40% of the total population works in the tea industry. Of which, 60% have emigrated from North India – a reflection of the power of Fairtrade and the extent of how a guaranteed minimum wage can attract workers.
The group, made up of Adele Ward, Hayley Mussell, Jane Becker and Mark Bagwell, learnt about organic farming methods, experienced tea picking, and met some incredibly enthusiastic and hard-working people while enjoying the beautiful landscape.
Here the team recount their experiences of an extraordinary trip.
Day 1 – Visit to the Chamraj Estate owned by Unity Tea
Adele Ward: Shortly after touching down in India, we visited an organic tea plantation at the Chamraj Estate. Here, we found out all about the rich history of the estate, the organic farming methods used, their plantation’s ethical credentials and its accreditations.
We were taken on a tour of the tea plantation and it was overwhelmingly beautiful – amazing vivid greens interspersed with contrasting purple jacaranda plants. The plantation was adorned with wondrous wildlife. To our amazement we discovered three herds of strong and beautiful Indian bisons naturally grazing amongst the tea bushes.
We also visited the local school and hospital to understand how Fairtrade funds have made an impact in the local community.
Despite being hidden in mountains of the Nilgiris, the health care services offered are of a high standard. All locals have access to quality healthcare and, with the hospital having its very own ambulance, also have quick access to the nearest major hospital.
We were hugely impressed with the level of education; the school subjects covered even include digital technology and coding. Remarkably all lessons are taught in English too, ensuring the children are ready for the modern world.
These facilities not only support the tea workers but expand their reach across the 27 surrounding villages.
Day 2: Visit to Chamraj Factory & Korakundah Estate
Hayley Mussell: We started day two, by heading back to the Chamraj factory to observe the tea being processed that was picked the day before. It was great to see the factory in full flow and to really understand the different process the small green leaves go through, to become the ‘tea’ that we all know and love.
The tea is carefully tended to and cared for by all of the workers and it was fascinating to see how some of the techniques are the same today, as they have been for decades. Never before, when sipping a cup of tea at home or work, had I fully considered how ‘tea’ is created, from leaf to cup, so we were very lucky to be proudly shown how this happens.
Following the factory tour, we visited the beautiful Korakundah Tea Estate, a large organic tea plantation that Clipper has worked in partnership with for many years. It is the highest tea estate in India, at 7920ft. Stepping out of the car, we were instantly amazed at how beautiful it was, the flowers and fauna and sound of birds make it a very natural and peaceful place. Parts of this large estate are surrounded by thick forests which make it an incredible environment for wild animals and of course, tea growing.
We were lucky enough to visit the tea fields and see some of the tea pickers – the job they do is so highly skilled. They pick the leaves quickly yet very delicately and with absolute precision. This was something we tried to turn our hand to, which only proved the point on how difficult it is and what great work they do!
Not only did we get the chance to see the incredible tea planation, but scattered throughout, we were also shown some of the different crops and plants they are growing including organic chamomile, eucalyptus and rhododendrons, pine trees and acacia trees. In extra community projects, the estate is continually looking at other things to farm, from growing vegetables for workers, through to organic fertilizers and vegetables for cattle feed. The remoteness of this estate really adds to its charm, everything is so well maintained, considered and thought through, from the schooling, farming techniques through to the solar-paneled street lights, it was a magical place that we were so honoured to visit.
Day 3 – Visit to Welbeck Estate
Jane Becker: Visiting the Welbeck Estate, a dedicated organic tea producer situated in the Nilgiri Hills, was a fascinating experience. The 71-year-old estate was one of the first Fairtrade certified tea gardens in India in 1994 and Clipper is its main customer. As a result, the estate and its workers receive significant support from Fairtrade.
Here we met with the Fairtrade Committee who decide which areas to allocate Fairtrade funding towards – the committee is currently focused on providing refrigerators to families on the estate, which is set to make a huge positive difference to their lives.
Fairtrade premiums are helping to support the workers at Welbeck in many different ways, including providing equipment and facilities for schools, and financially supporting maternity leave, sick leave, medical care and gas connections for cooking.
Day 4: Visit to the Kotada Tea Estate
Mark Bagwell: We were delighted to be invited back to the Kotada estate. A particularly special moment for me as it’s the 10th anniversary since my first visit – my fourth time overall. It provided a great opportunity for me to reconnect with old friends and hear about their lives.
I was reminded of the sheer amount of effort and hard work that goes on behind-the-scenes in tea making. It’s very sobering to know that for every 100kg of leaf plucked and delivered back to the factory only 25kg will become finished product. Every worker goes over and above to meet the factory needs.
The visit was highly insightful. The estate managers offered us an overview of the challenges and opportunities they face, from low yield due to poor weather conditions (2016 was a very challenging year for drought in the region), to staff recruitment, retention and wage increases. Meanwhile demand for quality tea, including organic and ethically traded, continues to rise.
Day 5 – Visit to Burnside Estate
Jane Becker: Our last day of the trip took us to a primary school and crèche in the Burnside Estate. The school children performed dance and drama when we arrived which was a joy to watch. Everything at the school is Fairtrade funded, including an English-speaking teacher.
Whilst visiting the Burnside Estate we heard about the other great initiatives made possible by the Fairtrade premium, including mushroom cultivation so that workers can be more self-sufficient and grow their own vegetables.
There are also cows on the estate partly funded by Fairtrade, allowing workers to sell milk and generate an additional income, increasing their independence. The Fairtrade fund also went towards a new Tailoring Hall with five sewing machines to train adults and older children from the estate and neighbouring villages to sew.
Clipper Teas is committed to fair and ethical tea sourcing across its supply chain. The brand was proud to become the UK’s first Fairtrade tea company in 1994, and continues to look to make a difference, cup-by-cup.