A Vancouver based NGO is helping Kenyan tea farmers increase their earnings by upto 20 percent by removing market bottlenecks like the middlemen in tea processing. Currently farmers earn about one per cent of the retail profit from the tea they grow.
JusTea was founded by Paul Bain, who graduated from UBC with a political science degree last year, with the help of his father Grayson Bain. They founded the organization after a visit to Kenya in 2012, where they lived with small-scale Kenyan tea farmers.
“We want to bring justice to the tea industry,” said Isaiah Muuo, the Kenyan partner of JusTea.
They are currently running a 30-day fundraising campaign through the local company FundRazr. Their goal is to raise about Sh1.7 million to purchase equipment for the two regions in which JusTea will be operating.
With the money, they aim to bring in equipment to build the first processing kitchens in the two regions and to educate their Kenyan partners on how to process tea themselves. Bain said they are bringing in a man from India with decades of experience in traditional hand processing methods to do this. About half of these funds will go to purchasing the tea that people who contribute to the campaign will receive.
Bain said they chose the relatively humble goal of a 20 per cent increase in salary in order to avoid having negative attention drawn to the farmers involved.
“If all of a sudden we double their salaries … it could almost ostracize them in the community, so we’ve been working really closely with our partners in Kenya to learn how to pay them more but not make it so it’s all of a sudden,” Bain said. “Other people will become suspicious of what they’re doing. They might want to get in on it as well. We might not be able to have the resources to be able to take more farmers in at the time.”
Muuo said recent changes in the Kenyan government give JusTea the opportunity to purchase tea directly from farmers rather than having to buy it from the government, as was the case previously. He expressed the frustration farmers have felt with the government-controlled system. “If I produce the tea and I give it to another person to sell it for me, I have no control over that, and so whatever [price] they give me, I accept, because there’s nothing I can do.”
Muuo said even farmers who produce a lot of tea need to buy a cow or goat to supplement their earnings. He said JusTea should increase the standard of living for those involved, allowing them to buy food or be able to send their children to school.
In the future, Bain hopes that, with the raise of profits and the increasing tea demand, JusTea will be able to install more processing kitchens in other regions in Kenya that welcome this kind of project. For now, they have two co-ops in Kenya with a total of ten farmers.
Bain said that the tea will be sold online, with prices comparable to that of David’s Tea and Teavana.