28 July, 2017

What's brewing? A tea farmer explains what Fairtrade means to him

Lebi Gabriel Hudson Tanzania Tea Farmer
by Emily McCoy

On the launch of our new campaign, ‘Not all tea is created equal’, we asked tea farmer Lebi Gabriel Hudson, CEO of Fairtrade certified Rungwe Smallholders Tea Growers Association in Tanzania, to explain what Fairtrade means to his community.

‘I was born into tea, my family are tea farmers and I grew up in a village in Tanzania’s mountainous region of Rungwe, famous for its tea. But sadly people typically earn very little from the crop, averaging around US$10-15 a month. 

‘Despite working hard, the majority of smallholder farmers in rural Tanzania are living in deep poverty; they can’t access local health or education services, clean water nor decent housing. Sometimes it gets so bad that feeding their families becomes a burden and to make ends meet some farmers send their children to work and girls are exposed to early marriages.  

‘So when I was lucky enough to go to university, I wanted to help my community. After graduating, I began working with a charity before joining the co-operative as a member and its CEO, where I help other farmers to make a better living from their crops.

SafeTEA and SecuriTEA

Because I am a farmer myself, I understand the challenges and the needs of our community, and don’t just look at how to improve members’ businesses, but also our society. After all, Fairtrade has always been about people. Our co-operative represents 15,000 farmer members and we are all benefitting from the security and the support of the Fairtrade system. The Fairtrade Premium is democratic; meaning our members collectively make decisions about these investments. We do this by electing representatives to join a Premium Committee and all decisions made by the group are accountable and in line with long-term development plans that aim to address the problems that could affect any one of us. 

Tea picker Tanzania

‘And that’s one of the reasons our committee decides to prioritise healthcare because anyone could fall sick and illness makes families and businesses more vulnerable. It affects productivity and performance at work. For example, in rural areas, if one person is sick, usually two more family members will have to miss work too to take them to a health facility because clinics are so far away. So we invest Fairtrade Premium in village dispensaries and support our members to get health insurance.

‘Our Committee meets regularly so we can be dynamic and flexible in response to the many issues we have that are not in our development plan because we cannot predict them; the weather for example, or disease could suddenly destroy our crops. So by being able to use the Premium to react to these types of problems, Fairtrade gives us greater security. For example, one of the ways we’ve been able to do this is by taking part in a regional project led by Fairtrade Africa called ADAPTea. This is helping farmers respond to the impact of climate change in a number of ways, for example through more environmentally-friendly or organic farming techniques. 

EqualiTEA and OpportuniTEA 

‘The problems facing tea farmers are wide-ranging and we all have different needs, which is why we embrace gender balance in our decision-making and work towards more equitable representation on our Committee. Currently six out of our 14 members are women, including our vice chair and accountant. 

‘I myself am a proud father of four girls. They are all so clever but they need a good education. Just like any parent, I want to give them the best opportunities to succeed in life. That’s why we don’t just focus on our businesses, but invest in our local services, such as education. A decade ago we only had 500 schools in Tanzania and very few in rural areas – now we have 4,000. We’ve been able to use some of the Premium to contribute funding to a government scheme, meaning that our local young people have these opportunities and we’ve also built school dormitories for girls. Since then, attendance has increased to 75 percent with many more girls attending.

Tanzania Kibena Tea Estate School

DigniTEA

‘Overall in the tea sector, we’re still a long way from receiving a decent price for our tea but thanks to Fairtrade, our members get a better deal and better incomes, whilst our communities save money and benefit from local services. We are proud of what our community has achieved. And it is all because customers in the UK choose Fairtrade tea. They know they are directly supporting communities like mine to develop ourselves.’

So next time you Choose Fairtrade tea remember Lebi’s story, and how he and so many others around the world are supporting their communities to live with dignity. 

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