Young bushes in polytunnelsI recently visited the ETP smallholder project attached to the Danau Kembar estate in Sumatra, Indonesia. I was following the footsteps of Dushy, ETP’s Regional Manager for Sri Lanka, who had visited the month before. The drive from Padang to the factory brings you through some stunning rainforest broken by the occasional roadside waterfall; a welcome change from the warehouse roofs out of my office window! As you would have read in Dushy’s blog, the project is run in partnership between ETP and IDH, the Dutch Government funded sustainable trade organisation. The aim of the project is to educate farmers on good agricultural practice and improve their incomes by providing seedlings to increase the volume of tea they produce.

Arriving at the factory we were immediately treated in typical Sumatran style to a huge and delicious lunchtime banquet, after which we visited the seedling project. ETP have created a brand new nursery with help from the factory and the local implementation partner. It is home to around 600,000 plants that will be ready for distribution and planting early next year. The 300 smallholder farmers will use the seedlings to infill the spare land on their plots, which will increase the volume of tea they produce and ultimately their income.

Nelia Latief, ETP Regional Manager for Indonesia looking at leaf qualityThe second aim of the project is to educate farmers on good agricultural practice. Using the lead farmer model they have trained the area’s most successful farmers to help deliver this knowledge to their peers. It's already evident that one group of farmers has improved their farming practices, and the next step is to ensure that all farmers in the factory’s catchment adopt these methods.

The leaf we saw at the factory does still include a lot of stalk, which reduces the quality of the tea, and ultimately the price it fetches at auction. The challenge is to find that balance between volume of tea produced and quality of the leaf plucked to maximise the smallholders’ incomes. Both areas of the project show real promise to deliver more and better tea, which is both beneficial to the farmers and to packers like us. I'm looking forward to seeing these improvements when the new plants are distributed next year.