Towards Carbon Neutral Tea – Lessons learnt from Asia and Africa

19 September 2020

The Powering Agriculture programme of GIZ and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) have been partnering for over six years to bring about change in the tea sector. Working in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Kenya, we have been supporting the tea industry in becoming low carbon, energy efficient, fair and inclusive. ETP and GIZ have used scientific research and interventions on the ground to increase the efficiency of fertilizer, fuelwood and energy use, and to capitalise on modern technology, and thus supporting the tea sector to transition towards carbon neutrality.

GIZ-ETP partnership in the tea sector

The Powering Agriculture programme of GIZ and the Ethical Tea Partnership (ETP) have been partnering for over six years to bring about change in the tea sector. Working in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, we have been supporting the tea industry in becoming carbon neutral, energy efficient, fair and inclusive.

Interventions have ranged from building internal capacity and conducting energy audits across Africa and Asia, forming and training energy management teams in tea factories, developing best practice guidance, facilitating behaviour change of factory workers and managers, trialling new technology, improving data monitoring and using satellites, drones and weather stations to gather precise information on landscape management such as the efficient application of fertilizer.

Through research, training and best practices, we have seen the tea sector upgrade their technology, improve their energy efficiency and reduce costs. Some of the lessons learnt in Asia are equally valuable for the African-based tea industry and vice versa. GIZ and ETP are now working to distil these lessons and foster further exchange among the tea growing countries.

Tea sector in Sri Lanka, Kenya and Indonesia

Tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water only, and it is one of the most important crops for Sri Lanka, Kenya and Indonesia. Sri Lanka is the third largest global exporter of tea comprising approximately 11% of the export market. Domestically, the Sri Lanka tea sector is valued at $1 billion per annum. Kenya is the world’s top exporter of black tea (and the fourth largest exporter overall). Tea contributes 4% of the country’s GDP and 26% of the country’s export earnings. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that 10% of the Kenyan population depend on tea, with around 560,000 small scale farmers producing 60% of the tea. Indonesia is the seventh largest tea exporter in terms of weight. Approximately 70% of the production is located in West Java and smallholders cultivate nearly 50% of the land.

Energy efficiency in the tea sector

Climate change negatively impacts populations across the planet, and it is no different in the tea sector. Changing weather patterns affect the tea production process and increases the vulnerability of the tea sector’s farmers, workers, and producers. Improving the energy efficiency within the sector not only mitigates climate change but can also significantly reduce the operating costs of production. In countries like Kenya, where farmers are part owners of the tea factories, improving energy efficiency can directly lead to more money reaching their pockets. Energy efficiency can also have wider environmental benefits such as reducing deforestation where fuel wood reliant tea factories are reliant on unsustainably sourced fuel wood.

In Kenya, the early movers (the first eleven tea factories that carried out energy audits, trainings and implemented recommended energy efficiency measures together with GIZ and ETP) were able to reduce electricity use by 11 % and firewood consumption by 10%. This equates to an annual energy cost saving of EUR 60 000 per factory. In Indonesia, efficiency trainings led factory management to commit to upgrading specific equipment (e.g. dryers) and monitoring energy use going forward. It is hoped that on return similar achievements in energy use reductions will be seen.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)

Findings from ETP and GIZ’s past studies have shown that the largest quantities of GHG emissions in the tea production process come from the fertilizers used to grow the tea, the biomass used to dry the tea (often unsustainably sourced fuel wood) and the energy used in the factories.

In Sri Lanka for example, biogenic emissions accounted for 64% of total GHG emissions (of a sample of 29 estates in 2019). The second most significant source of emissions arise from fertilizer use, which represents 15% of total emissions in the Sri Lankan tea sector. Interventions towards carbon neutrality therefore need to target sustainable fuel wood sourcing as a priority. Several interventions are identified for this including the use of unproductive lands on large tea plantations for fuel wood production. Funding is the key barrier here, hence options such as a localised carbon credit to support sustainable fuel wood production could be an innovative option.

Lessons learnt

  • Working with both state and private actors and focusing on a sectoral wide push to improve energy efficiency and a move towards carbon neutrality can be a strong catalyst for change. In Sri Lanka for instance, we are working closely with the Colombo Tea Traders Association (body representing producers, buyers and exporters) on a collective process to explore the development of a 10-year industry plan towards carbon neutrality & industry sustainability.
    1. Conducting in-depth research on GHG emissions and energy use in the tea production process (audits) has allowed up to easily identify the most urgent and cost-effective areas to focus on and shown the huge potential for energy and cost savings. In Indonesia, a systemic audit tool to identify Significant Energy Users (SEU), Energy Performance Indicators (ENPI) and measure the performance of the machines in production process has been developed to ensure correct recording is done and unnecessary energy use is avoided.
    2. Factories have been incentivised by the potential of a quick return on investment, which they can make by improving energy efficiency
    3. It is critical to engage all stages of management in efficiency trainings (not just technicians) as those higher up the chain will be needed to release funds for investment. In Kenya this was achieved through inviting senior management on exchange trips to observe best practice in energy efficiency. In Sri Lanka and Indonesia meetings were held with company CEOs at the beginning of project engagement. Case studies have been used to show the trade-offs between short term costs and long term benefits.
    4. Focusing on methods to facilitate behaviour change is critical to implementing efficiency measures beyond machinery upgrades. In Kenya, we rolled out a training programme for factory workers and managers to sensitise them to how even small changes in the operation and maintenance of machinery can make a significant different.
    5. There is a strong need to empower factory staff to implement an energy data capture system to easily understand and effectively use the data to support energy efficiency.
    6. Exchange trips for tea factory staff (both in-country and internationally) provide opportunities to learn about new technology and approaches to shifting towards a carbon neutral tea sector.
    7. Modern technology has helped participants to make smart decisions about resource use and has gained good results and helped to keep stakeholders engaged in the programme.
    8. It has been helpful to use a landscape level lens to understand the integration between the challenges and solutions. In Sri Lanka, landscape planning (data from drones, weather stations etc) has been used to understand specific crop fertilizer needs (precision agriculture) and explore opportunities for fuel wood farming
    9. Working with both state and private actors and focusing on a sectoral wide push to improve energy efficiency and a move towards carbon neutrality can be a strong catalyst for change. In Sri Lanka for instance, we are working closely with the Colombo Tea Traders Association (body representing producers, buyers and exporters) on a collective process to explore the development of a 10-year industry plan towards carbon neutrality & industry sustainability.
    10. A strong energy conservation framework at the national level is important to incentivise and promote certification and the use of energy auditors. In Indonesia there was limited information on energy consumption in the tea sector but a strong energy conservation framework in place which has led to a strong network of energy auditors who can support energy related work.
    11. National energy efficiency competitions can help to incentivise stakeholders to improve their efficiency. This was trialled in Kenya, where factories submitted their annual progress on sustainable energy management and the highest achieving factories were celebrated at an awards ceremony.

Name and position of the contact person

Rachel Cracknell, Senior Programme Manager, ETP

Lucie Pluschke, WE4F Est Africa Hub Manager, GIZ

Links to further materials

Key buzzwords / “tags”

Tea, sustainability, public private partnerships, energy efficiency, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Indonesia, lessons learnt.