The tea industry in India is going through an exciting period of change at the moment, as sustainability initiatives enter the mainstream of the Indian domestic market after years of focus on the export sector.

In July, Sarah joined me and 800 other people in Kolkata for the launch of the India Sustainable Tea Programme. The program is a partnership funded by IDH, Unilever, and Tata Global Beverages (TGB) that brings together implementing partners Solidaridad and ETP, with Rainforest Alliance and others playing advisory roles. The initiative is being led by the Indian Tea Board and will be truly multi-stakeholder as it will include consultation processes with producer associations and smallholder groups as well as trade unions and NGOs.

Trustea, as the program will be known, is a system of capacity building, verification and certification that will increase the overall sustainability of the tea sector, improving livelihoods of small growers, and securing the supply of ethically produced tea for the two biggest tea packers Unilever and TGB. Like many international codes Trustea has been drawn up on the basis of ILO conventions but also includes sections on Food Safety and Product Traceability that have been included on the basis of recent Indian legislation, making it particularly relevant for the Indian context.

ETP joins the program as an implementing partner and will work alongside Solidaridad and the other partners to deliver the program on the ground. The support and expertise that ETP brings is drawn from our long experience in India and our capacity building and support programmes from other regions. One area of particularly relevant expertise will be our work with smallholders, as Trustea aims to cover 40,000 small growers.  We will use our learnings from the hundreds of audits that we have carried out in India, to inform how the programme works with the different producer groups and to scale up the program quickly and efficiently.

Vikram Chauhan, ETP Regional Manager for India

We now have the opportunity to use our learning and understanding of sustainability issues to raise standards on a much larger scale in India which is tremendously exciting. I am sensing the beginning of a real paradigm shift and am confident that this ambitious new undertaking in India will have far-reaching and positive impacts on livelihoods, the environment, and the overall sustainability of tea production for the world’s second largest tea producer.

A key member of the Trustea Programme Committee will be the ETP Regional Manager in India, which of course is the next big piece of news from the India programme. As you may know, our previous Regional Manager Ranjan Circar moved on from ETP earlier this year, although we are happy to say that we will be continuing to work with him in his new capacity as he will also be involved in the Trustea programme. So the search has been on to find a worthy replacement. I’m very pleased to say that we have found our man, so to speak. Vikram Chauhan officially joins ETP at the beginning of November and I am really looking forward to working with him. Vikram has excellent experience having worked in both North and South India’s plantation sector and for the last five years he’s been implementing a series of change programmes in African tea companies.

While Vikram has great experience of running tea gardens it’s his holistic approach to business and sustainability that will help ETP to have an even bigger impact in India. His global perspective on how to effectively embed change and deal with issues such as livelihoods and empowerment will be invaluable as we continue to play a major role in the positive changes we’re seeing here in both the domestic and export markets.