The Plight of the Tea Farmer

 

“Plight” – a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation.

 

The situation for the Kenyan tea farmer is not a pleasant one. Because of the current system, and reasons beyond the farmers’ control, many things have gone unchanged since colonial days.

 

Let’s discuss.

 

Most tea farmers only own 1 or 2 acres of tea plants. Once the bushes mature, the farmers pluck the leaves, and sell them to the factories by the kilo (at pennies per kilo, but more on that later). The factories then process the leaves in big, angry machines that spit out ground-up black tea, and a whole lot of pollution (most factories run on wood-fire furnaces). This tea is then auctioned off at the Mombasa tea auction, and sent all over the world.

 

Now to the problems.

 

As mentioned, the farmers are paid pennies for their hard labour. The leaves are weighed, and the weight is recorded, but often, the factory pick-up trucks are (“accidentally”) a few hours late, and while the farmers wait, the leaves lose moisture, and therefore weight, and therefore value.

 

While waiting for the factory pick-up truck, pluckers will place the leaves in a donut shape to allow better circulation, so the leaves are less likely to lose moisture.

While waiting for the factory pick-up truck, pluckers will place the leaves in a donut shape to allow better circulation, so the leaves are less likely to lose moisture.

Often, if there are a few leaves that aren’t up to standard, the factory collectors won’t accept the leaves, or will bring them back and refuse payment.

A plucker sweeps the way before the pick-up truck arrives.

A plucker sweeps the way before the pick-up truck arrives.

 

 With tea in Kenya, there is a very delicate balance between supply and demand. Growing conditions, transport/management costs, and demand from foreign buyers are just a few of the major factors which are out of the control of the farmers. 2013 was a very rainy year in Kenya, which led to a high yield, but civil unrest in the Middle East and Egypt led to a greatly diminished demand. Too much tea, not enough cups. The farmers were the ones who paid.

A local child plays with a toy made out of an old oil can and bottle caps.

 

The dry season generally lasts from January to mid-March. During this period, everything dries up, and crops stop growing. Every year, the effects are felt across the nation. There are food and water shortages, and little to no income for farmers who depend on their crops. For many, the only hope for survival is any food/money they have been able to save over the wet months. But, like 2014, if the wet months aren’t wet, and the plants aren’t growing, many farmers and their families are left in dire circumstances.

 

With so little income, many farmers are forced to take out loans from banks or local lenders. Many of the banks, however, charge up to 20% interest, leaving farmers in extreme, and ever-growing debt.

 

The most important thing to realize is that these are not statistics, these are people. They are people like you and me who have been taken advantage of, and who deserve better options than what they currently have. JusTea is here to create those possibilities, and every time you purchase tea, or tell a friend about us, you are helping us reach more and more people. Together, one farm at a time, we can change the Kenyan tea industry for the better. Drink JusTea, and be a part of our story.

 

Asante sana. Thank you.

 

-Daniel White

The Chai Wallah’s Gift

“Chaiiii! Chaiiii! Garam chaiiii!” The loud, nasal cry winds its way through India’s trains early in the morning. Travelers stretch their cramped and jolted bodies and rustle through their pockets for change. The chai wallah arrives with his silver urn and little paper cups. He pours a cup of steaming, milky black tea in exchange for a five-rupee coin. The passengers lift the cups to their lips, steam curling over their faces, the scent filling their noses. They forget the smell of the bathrooms at either end of the car. They forget the mouse they’d seen running over their feet. They smile at each other.

The year I lived in India, I learned chai isn’t a luxury: it’s a necessity. No matter how hot the weather, the chai wallah always travels the streets with his wire rack of tea in glasses, serving it to street vendors and shopkeepers alike. Mornings, my roommate left the house before I was up, but she’d leave me warm chai on the stove. Twice a day at the school where I worked, Anita would make us rich cups of chai; she showed me how to boil the milk and water together, and how to grate in the ginger.

Upon my return from India, I began making chai for my family and friends. I bought the whole spices: green cardamom pods, cloves, fresh ginger, and long cinnamon sticks. Often I only have time to chuck a tea bag in a pot of hot water, but when I can, I love making chai from scratch. People stop by the stove to see what I’m doing and ask me to show them how. I strain the chai into my fancy teacups, one by one. I want my guests to know they’re worth the effort.

The first time I had JusTea’s chai was at a family reunion. A big urn of tea sat on the edge of the picnic table. We were drawn in out of the dark toward each other, warmed together, with the same experience of delicious taste and smell.

Tea is about connection: waiting together at the kitchen table for the kettle to whistle, a full cup of tea handed from one person to another, a long conversation extended by a second (or third) cup. You can’t share a cup of tea through Facebook or a text message; it requires you to be in each other’s presence. Coffee might be your caffeine fix, your jolt to fuel an overworked day. But tea is a reminder to slow down and appreciate the people around you.

This is what JusTea does: brings you closer not just to your family and friends, but to those in a far country who may seem very different than you. It’s about cutting out the layers of disconnect between what goes into our teacup, and those who made it. It’s about appreciating the effort involved in what we consume. We won’t all have a chance to drink tea in Kenya, but JusTea shortens the distance between us and Kenyan farmers, and helps us realize the gift a cup of tea can be.

~ Liz Snell