As it’s Follow The Frog week, we thought it would be a great time to focus on some of the work we’ve been doing with the Rainforest Alliance. And as luck would have it, our MD Andy has just returned from visiting our projects in Rwanda – a country which produces some of the finest teas in the world and that form a key part of our Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Tea blends. We asked him how his trip went:
“I’ve been to tea producing countries before, but never to Rwanda. To me the country had a feeling of fragility and hope about it – hardly surprising following the terrible genocide eighteen years ago. What really struck me was the youth and optimism of the people, whether it was those in positions of authority or the thousands of children I saw walking along the roadsides.
There is just no substitute for seeing it first hand. I hadn’t fully appreciated the impact that a company like Taylors has made in rebuilding the tea industry here. The volume of Rwandan tea that we now import is five times that of four years ago as we have worked with farmers and producers to enhance quality and gain Rainforest Alliance certification.
I saw many of the social and environmental improvements made in the tea growing areas, improving the lives of growers and their families. My overriding memory is of the pride on the faces of a group of young people I visited at a vocational training centre near Kitabi estate as they put their new found tailoring and carpentry skills to use. It was humbling to see what a difference our work has made – benefiting everyone from the grower in the Rwandan hills to our loyal drinkers of Yorkshire Tea here in the UK.”
We’ve already discussed how Project Rwanda is making a difference to the quality of life for 10,000 smallholder farmers and is also improving the quality of our luxury Yorkshire Gold blend. This week, we’d like to explain a little about Rainforest Alliance who we work closely with.
You may have noticed the Rainforest Alliance logo on boxes of Yorkshire Gold. Well, the Rainforest Alliance is an independent body that is dedicated to helping people and the environment prosper. By being Rainforest Alliance certified, farmers not only work in a more environmentally and socially conscious way, they are also helped to improve the quality and quantity of the tea they produce, resulting in better prices and more tea to sell.
A big factor in achieving this is education. The Rainforest Alliance works directly with Rwandan tea growers to train them and their workers in better agricultural practices that minimize the effect tea growing has on the land. The farming communities are also supported in developing improved sanitation, health care, schooling, and housing which all help to improve the wellbeing of the farmers we buy from.
Some of the Rainforest Alliances’ key principles involve instilling relatively simple practical steps that tea farmers and workers can adapt to their own needs. These include better waste and water management, soil conservation, tree planting and the use of personal protective equipment.
Let’s take waste management. Tea production can produce waste water that is often, once used, left to stream straight back into rivers. By using a natural water filtration system, consisting of tiered beds of plants, the water is cleaned naturally and allowed to flow safely into the local water supply; proper composting provides a rich and free fertilizer that can be put back on the crop; organic waste can be used to produce natural biogas and recyclable waste can be separated and often sold.
Soil conservation is vital to allow the long term prosperity of a tea farm, not to mention the food security of local communities. In Rwanda’s tropical climate, heavy rainfall can easily wash away this vital commodity if measures are not taken to retain it. Composting, planting, and control of water run-off are all skills that Rainforest Alliance farmers take on board and which make a huge difference.
Finally, as their name suggests, the Rainforest Alliance has a particular soft spot for trees! Indigenous species are planted on certified tea estates across the tea-producing world. In Rwanda there are now a significant number of seedling nurseries established purely to supply tea farmers with hardwood varieties native to their country so they can help to preserve natural woodlands.
So all these steps not only reduce harm they also help make more money for the tea growers. Oh, and we get even better quality tea for our luxury Yorkshire Gold blend.
Over 75% of the tea that goes into our Yorkshire Gold and Yorkshire Tea blends currently comes from Rainforest Alliance certified tea estates and gardens. We’re gradually increasing these percentages and by 2014, we aim to have 100% of the tea in our tea bags supplied by Rainforest Alliance certified growers.
It’s possible, it’s worth it and it’s our commitment to improving the lives of tea growers, workers and their families worldwide. It’s working too – as 10,000 Rwandan smallholders will testify.
Last week, we introduced you to Project Rwanda and how it is making a difference in a country that’s suffered serious hardship in recent times. This week, we’d like to focus on how this co-funded initiative is improving quality – not just the quality of the tea itself but also the quality of life of thousands of farmers and their families.
Yorkshire Gold is a rich, full-bodied and refreshing golden brew that unites teas from the world’s very finest tea gardens and brings their wonderfully unique flavours together in your cup. Whilst the smooth malty flavours come from Assam second flush teas, Rwandan teas are responsible for the fresh and lively dimension to the taste. So the quality of Rwandan tea is very important to us.
Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills and it’s the combination of volcanic soils and high altitudes that makes the tea bushes that grow on these dramatic escarpments, which are often shrouded in cloud, so lush and verdant. In fact, so impressed are we with the quality of the tea produced here, we even offer a special ‘Yorkshire Gold Season’s Pick’ Rwandan tea, which is available for a limited period from late January each year.
To encourage and help growers in Rwanda to keep improving and producing the quality of the tea that’s an essential part of Yorkshire Gold, we need to all do everything better. We play our part by paying better, fairer prices for their tea crops. Rather than simply handing over funds, our experience tells us that it is better to improve through trade, not aid.
By matching a grant from the Department for International Development (DfID), we have co-funded a project to support 10,000 small-scale Rwandan tea farmers. The project helps them increase the processing standards and consequently the quality of tea has been raised too. Also, by partnering with the Rainforest Alliance we are working to help raise the standard of social, working and environmental practices so that Rwandan farmers can enjoy a better standard of living and quality of life.
Our tea buyers travel the world in search of the finest teas, and the very best quality leaves are what go into Yorkshire Gold. Maybe you’ve already tried it? If so, you’ll know it’s a wonderfully rich and luxurious cup of tea. To make it, we blend smooth and malty second flush Assam teas from India with fresh and lively leaves from the highlands of East Africa – especially Rwanda.
As a country, Rwanda has suffered serious hardships, none greater than the civil war in 1994. Since then, the tea industry has played a key role in the transformation of Rwanda and the welfare of its people.
We’ve been buying tea from Rwanda for over 37 years and for the last 3 years, we’ve been co-funding a UK government supported project that’s making a big difference to the lives of more than 10,000 tea farmers and their families. We call it Project Rwanda, and it’s something very important to us that we’d like to focus on over the next month. Play our video to discover more.
Our key aim is to help farms achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. To be certified, farms have to be well managed and practice more sustainable methods such as investing in new better waste water management.
What’s the incentive for them to do this? Well, being a Rainforest Alliance certified farm can be a really effective way to also increase yields, give farmers better prices for their harvests and improve workers’ living standards.
We benefit too, of course – by getting some great tea to help ensure you get a seriously good brew. We hope you’ll agree that it’s worth paying that little bit extra for. In our next blog, we’ll be looking in more detail at how Rainforest Alliance certification is improving quality.
Sanjay from our tea-buying team has just been out to Rwanda to see how our project to help Rwandan tea farmers is progressing. But before he even got a chance to catch up on his emails we ambushed him and asked for a report. This is what he told us…
“This trip was a great opportunity to tour the farms and factories we’re working with in Rwanda alongside Mark Thomas, a representative of our funding partners in the project, FRICH (the Food Retail Industry Challenge fund). The main focus of the project is to improve the quality of life for 10,000 farmers and their families by raising standards within the Rwandan tea industry, and this trip allowed us to gauge its progress.
As well as improving the quality of the tea itself, helping the farms to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification is a major element in the plan. Working towards that standard is a really effective way to improve farm management practices that will not only lead to better yields but also to better prices for the farmer, and improved living standards.
While visiting the key factories we work with at Gisovu, Kitabi and Mata, Mark and I saw evidence of a great deal of work, with robust systems for ensuring workers have the right personal protective equipment as well as substantial investment in new waste water management methods.
Mark was very impressed with what he saw, and our suppliers are well on track to achieve certification later next year, which is really encouraging.”
We’ll be sure to keep you posted on further developments!
Despite the fact that we can count The Script, Tinie Tempah, Madonna and Ozzy among our fans, the chances are that’s the closest Yorkshire Tea will ever get to the pop charts.
But that doesn’t bother us (too much). We’ve had our own form of chart success: Yorkshire Tea has been ranked as one of the top three most ethical teas in the recent Good Shopping Guide.
Produced by the Ethical Company Organisation, the guide looks at much more than just whether a brand has a certification label – as they say “It is really important to look at the whole company.”
That they consider the environment, human rights, animal welfare and other social responsibilities is music to our ears.
We’ve long been champions of a more holistic approach – from more straightforward stuff like improving waste water treatment and ensuring workers always have the right safety gear, to our work with the Department of International Development to help the Rwandan tea industry improve the lives of 10,000 farmers and their families.
Then there’s the approach we take to our own backyard of course – working with our neighbours to reduce our waste (as well as theirs) through innovative recycling schemes like our Cone Exchange, or vastly reducing road miles by bringing our teas to port in the nearby north-east, rather than down south.
We’ve been working with a talented local photographer, Tim Smith, to bring to life the tea industry in Rwanda and its connection with what we do here at Taylors.
Tim travelled out to Rwanda to visit some of the places and people we buy our tea from, observing every aspect of the process and capturing the beauty of it all in his own unique style. And by teaming up with Harrogate’s Mercer Art Gallery, Tim’s photos have been put together to form a stunning exhibition, ‘Tea: From the Land of a Thousand Hills’.
The photos show how, in the 15 years following the genocide, the tea industry has played a key role in the transformation of Rwanda and its people. We’ve been buying tea from Rwanda for over 35 years and it’s a vital part of the Yorkshire Tea and Yorkshire Gold blends. We’re also into the second year of our government-supported project to improve the lives of more than 10,000 tea farmers and their families.
The Mercer exhibition will run from the 25th September 2010 to the 16th January 2011 (admission is free). And if that still doesn’t quench your thirst for tea-related knowledge, there will also be a neighbouring exhibition in Harrogate’s Pump Room Museum exploring the ‘Social History of Tea’.
As you may well know from our previous posts- Rwanda holds a special place to us at Taylors as it forms an important part of our Yorkshire Gold Blend, producing tea with unique character and truly golden brightness. We have been buying Rwandan teas for many years and I visited Rwanda as part of my training trip to see first-hand the tea and the people who grow it.
The first thing that strikes you when entering Rwanda after leaving the airport in Kigali, the capital, is the cleanliness. The government here actually banned plastic bags a number of years ago and my, what a difference it makes. Clean streets with virtually no litter line well built roads with neat pedestrian walkways. Cosmopolitan buildings sit alongside neat villages, the most modest of which are built from clay bricks and tiled roofs, as opposed to tin. All these sites are very remarkable when you consider the trauma this country endured 16 years ago during the conflict that took place here.
And then there’s the tea. I had the privilege of visiting three factories producing some of the best tea in the country- and by that fact, some of the best tea in the world. Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills and that it is- specacular rolling hills with steep escaprments that lie often above the clouds.
I visited estates that are part of a project part funded by DFID and ourselves to support 10,000 Rwandan farmers in quality improvement and sustainabilty in partnership with Rainforest Alliance. The areas where the tea estates lie are covered in lush green tea bushes. The volcanic soils and high altitude make for unique growing conditions that set Rwandan tea apart. When the sun shines the tea bushes shimmer a golden glow that illuminates the landscape and translates into a rich golden liquor in the cup- just what we’re looking for for Yorkshire Gold.
Illuminous yellowy green leaf, fermenting, and the stunning Lake Kivu.
We’ve talked a lot about ‘our work in Rwanda’ over the last few months. Here’s a little more information to explain what we mean by that.
Anthony from the Rwandan Tea Authority is pleased to see Season’s Pick Rwandan on sale
Rwandan tea is a vital part of our Yorkshire Tea and Yorkshire Gold blends. And as the country’s number one export earner, it’s very important to Rwanda too.
However, while the last decade has seen improved infrastructure and new economic opportunities for Rwanda, the disruption of the civil war in 1994 is still evident. For example, there are now only a few factories processing consistently top quality tea, which threatens the competitiveness of Rwanda’s tea industry and the livelihoods of many farmers.
That’s why we’ve matched a grant from the Department for International Development (DfID) to fund a project supporting 10,000 small-scale Rwandan tea farmers – it’s part of a wider UK government initiative called the Food Retail Industry Challenge fund (FRICH).
Our aim is to raise the quality of the tea being produced in Rwanda, through training in cultivation and processing, and to improve social and environmental practices, by partnering with the Rainforest Alliance. We’re even investigating the potential for farmers to raise extra income by protecting (or ‘sequestering’) carbon.
Our tea buyers know that at its best Rwandan tea is hard to beat. To see for yourself, try our Season’s Pick Rwandan tea, which is currently available in selected supermarkets.
By creating a premium market for high quality, sustainably-grown tea and committing to purchase a significant volume from farmers in Rwanda, we’ll be supporting local tea communities, providing good living and working conditions for farmers and their workers.
That’s what our recent visitor, Anthony Butera, had to say about the UK. The reason why that’s particularly striking is that he is Director General of the Rwandan Tea Authority. Rwanda, land of a thousand hills. A place so beautiful that our tea buyers get a bit of a glow about them whenever they start talking about their visits there.
The rolling hills of Rwanda
Nevertheless, Anthony insists that to him the Yorkshire Dales are more beautiful than the lush tea-covered peaks of his home. But this is more than a simple case of the ‘grass being greener’.
Yorkshire’s beauty is less obvious during such a grey and chilly February, but it is still a place where life is good for the vast majority. And though Rwanda is unquestionably gorgeous and Anthony’s passion for it is clear, it is a country in great need of development.
Anthony with our tea buyer Sanjay
We’re working with people like Anthony to help Rwanda build a stronger tea industry, which will, in turn, improve the lives of over 10,000 farmers and their families. As one of the country’s biggest exports, tea is vital to Rwanda’s future. With support, the industry can drive development and provide the country’s rural population with the means to build a better life for themselves. Look out for further updates on this in the near future.
So yes, at first glance, it’s impossible not to be struck by the natural beauty of Rwanda’s ‘thousand hills’, but this is still a country with a mountain to climb.