Tea sector shows signs of growth in sustainable production: report

Ottawa, Thursday  December 19, 2019 – The volume of tea produced in compliance with voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 35 percent since 2008, reaching at least 19 percent of overall production in 2016. In contrast, conventional tea production has grown at a rate of less than 1 per cent in the same period. This is according to a new report released today by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The overall tea sector is projected to experience continued growth thanks to increasing demand from traditional markets in Europe and North America and also from Asian and Pacific countries, which are experiencing rising incomes and a growing clientele among young urban consumers interested in the health benefits of drinking tea as well as new products and flavourings.

Despite this positive projection, the tea industry is facing significant challenges as a result of changing climate patterns, heavy agrochemical use, and poor working conditions, including forced and child labour.

“Another challenge to expand production and consumption of VSS-compliant tea is that the largest tea-producing countries, such as China, India and Sri Lanka, are also the largest consumers of tea, and they tend to choose conventionally grown options over more costly sustainable teas,” said Cristina Larrea, Lead, Sustainability Standards at IISD. However there are positive signs that consumption trends are shifting in these countries, as the growing middle class develops a taste for specialty and more sustainable teas.

The tea sector employs 13 million people, 9 million of whom are smallholder farmers. Out of the 48 tea-growing countries, 12 are Low Human Development Countries (LHDCs) according to the Human Development Index, and 6 of those – Burundi, Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania – produce VSS-compliant tea. These LHDCs accounted for 12 per cent of the total VSS-compliant tea produced worldwide in 2016.

“Some of these LHDCs show promising signs of growth in VSS-compliant tea production, which could be beneficial for farmers in these countries if demand for more sustainable tea continues to grow as expected,” Larrea added.

VSS-compliant tea is produced to meet consumer preferences while aiming to maintain the sector’s long-term sustainability. VSSs encourage agricultural practices that enable climate resilience, lower agrochemical use, increase profitability for smallholders, and improve conditions for workers.

The new report is the third in IISD’s Sustainable Commodities Marketplace Series, which presents sustainable production and consumption market information on agricultural commodities to foster transparency, knowledge and strategic decision making for sustainable development. The first report, on coffee, and the second, on cocoa, were launched earlier this year. Future reports will focus on the production of bananas, cotton, palm oil, soybeans and sugar.



The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an independent think tank that delivers the knowledge to act. Our mission is to promote human development and environmental sustainability. Our big-picture view allows us to address the root causes of some of the greatest challenges facing our planet today – ecological destruction, social exclusion, unfair laws and economic and social rules, a changing climate. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, Toronto and Beijing, our work impacts lives in nearly 100 countries.

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