Our destination is the Kericho Estate, the first tea plantation in the world to have been granted the famous Rainforest Alliance certificate.
The Rainforest Alliance is an independent NGO that monitors ten aspects of sustainable business practice, including employee welfare and respect for the environment. The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and to improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards in a variety of fields. Through measurable auditing, it provides forestry, agriculture and carbon-credit clients with independent and transparent verification, validation and certification services. The program is designed to generate ecological, social and economic benefits.
A model plantation
After a one-hour flight from Nairobi, the tea plantations begin to appear on the horizon: green fields flecked with groups of tea-pickers. They are the basis of the tea industry – Kenya’s second-largest earner of foreign currency after tourism.
Tea has been grown on the Kericho Estate since 1924, first by the British company Brooke Bond, and then by Unilever since 1984, mainly under the Lipton brand. The estates are close to the equator and at 2,000 metres above sea level – the ideal climate for cultivating high-quality tea.
The hard-working pickers get up in the middle of the night and can be seen throughout the plantations by seven o’clock in the morning. Tea-picking appears to be a real craft. Only the top, bright green leaves are picked and the rest of the plant remains untouched. The new leaves that then grow are picked every ten days. Every three years, the tea plants are thoroughly pruned when the top twenty centimetres are lopped off.
Kericho Estate extends more than fifty miles in length, and covers about 8,250 acres. With 16,000 employees providing for roughly 65,000 dependants, the estate is an important source of jobs in a region where unemployment rates are high.
The Rainforest Alliance certficate is based on the three Ps of sustainability: people, planet and profit. Taken into account in attaining the first P for people are employment, fair wages, safe working conditions, housing and education – generous employee benefits. In this respect, Unilever has established its own health-care system. Employees on the Unilever Tea Kenya estate have free access to a well-equipped hospital and several pharmacies.
On the second P for planet, the Kericho Estate gets 97% of its energy from renewable sources, most of it from fuel-wood plantations and company-owned hydropower stations. The company aims to continue reducing its dependence on grid electricity. To further its goal of restoring indigenous forests, Unilever Tea Kenya has a dedicated nursery for the cultivation of forest trees, and has planted and distributed three-quarters of a million indigenous trees for reforestation since the year 2000.
Lastly, P for profit: During the 1980s, tea-growing suddenly became very profitable in Kenya and many small farmers jumped into the business. Besides its own plantations, Lipton also buys tea from an amazing 450,000 small tea-farmers.
More infos : www.rainforest-alliance.org
Text & photos Krys Panneckouke • Translation Julie Walker