A Lot of Dialogue, a Lot of Learning, a Lot of Adjustments

Malawi Tea 2020, a sector-wide collaboration towards higher wages and incomes ⏤ Report on a session of the Living Income Community of Practice annual workshop
© Sustainable Foodlab/Stephanie Daniels

With their ambitious, action-oriented sector-wide approach, Malawi Tea 2020 provided the workshop participants with a practical example at the sector level.

The podium discussion highlighted basic necessities and challenges of communication and constructive discussions in the multi-stakeholder initiative and therefore how important it is to have the Living Income Community of Practice and their exchange platforms. „It’s a lot about dialogues, discussion and reflection.”

The workshop participants were impressed by the panelists’ openness as well as their willingness to reflect and to criticize themselves. With great interest, they are now looking forward to their next year’s status report when the strategic alliance will have entered into the follow-up program. There, the activities in Malawi will be consolidated and lessons learned will be sent over to Rwanda for possible emulation in the tea sector there.


First, Jordy van Honk of the Sustainable Trade Initiative in the Netherlands gave an overview of Malawi Tea 2020. He outlined the five main pillars of the program as well as the progress and difficulties with achieving higher wages and incomes. One key success of the partnership includes the introduction of the first ever industry-wide collective bargaining agreement. As a result, the net living wage gap closed by more than 25%. Tea workers on tea plantations in Malawi earn 57% more than the country’s minimum wage now. These are the largest wage increases in an agricultural sector compared to other sectors in Malawi or the African tea sector as a whole, Sangwani Hara of the Tea Association of Malawi stressed.

During the panel discussion, the achievements and challenges were reflected from the respective perspective of each participant. This gave the audience a straightforward insight into the complexity of such a heterogeneous multi-stakeholder initiative. A key message was that such a large and diverse coalition required a high level of communication, discussion, reflection and criticism.

Jordy van Honk emphasised the importance of dialogues, learning aptitudes and adjustments: “That is what it takes: going one step back, going two steps forward.”

Sarah Roberts of Ethical Tea Partnership highlighted capacity building activities undertaken by Ethical Tea Partnership and GIZ  ⏤ such as conducting farmer field and business schools, strengthening village savings and loan groups⏤ which helped to increase incomes of tea workers and tea smallholder farmers. She also stressed the importance of the Community of Practice on Living Income, their exchange and meetings to guide and help an initiative like the Malawi Tea 2020 to reflect and to learn, as well as to transfer experience from the tea sector to other sectors such as cocoa, coffee and banana.

Oxfam as the only NGO in the initiative often took the position as critical corrective. Rachel Wilshaw of Oxfam described the role of her organisation as a smiling challenger in order to overcome poverty and suffering. However, she also emphasized the program’s great strength in being able to make fundamental progress on both sides of the value chain. One main step had been the achievement of a collective bargaining agreement on the side of primary production. At the same time, Ethical Tea Partnership’s work with the big tea companies was of immense importance on the side of consumers.

Stefan Feldbusch representing the Ostfriesische Teegesellschaft (OTG) gave an insight into the challenges and strategies of OTG to obtain and to market tea. OTG was committed to working towards a living wage and a living income, but tea stocks in Europe were still high after the hot summer and less consumption of tea. He also explained new recent efforts of OTG to introduce green tea production in Malawi, a possible lucrative new business avenue for tea in Malawi.

The producer’s side of the Malawian tea industry was represented by Sangwani Hara of the Tea Association of Malawi. Amongst the achievements highlighted by the previous speakers, he also mentioned the need to change the structural conditions for tea producers, for example through policy lobbying. Rachel Wilshaw agreed that there is still a lot of work to do in order to accomplish an enabling environment to succeed in this project. Despite all the challenges, the panelists were equally convinced of the program’s great impact on the Malawian tea industry.

About the Malawi Tea 2020 programme

The programme is a public-private partnership of Malawian tea producers, trade unions, large international tea buyers, representatives of certification standards, NGOs and donors. The overall goal is to achieve a competitive, profitable tea industry that can provide its workers with living wages, and farmers living incomes, and improved nutrition by 2020. Companies all along the tea value chain support the program.

GIZ supports Malawi Tea 2020 through a Strategic Alliance of the GIZ develoPPP.de programme, a public-private partnership that is formed on the private side by six tea companies and the Ethical Tea Partnership. All participating producers – large tea estates and smallholder farmers – are members of the Tea Association of Malawi. Most important buyers of Malawi tea, including traders, packers, and retailers, are represented by the Ethical Tea Partnership. Other key players are Oxfam, of the Sustainable Trade Initiative, Netherlands and GIZ.


For comments and additional information on the topic please contact: Eberhard Krain (GIZ’s Sectoral Department FMB, and tandem partner of the ABIVCD working group)


Jörg Bohn (Sectoral Department FMB), Eberhard Krain