For many of us tea is part of our everyday lives. From providing the centre piece for social functions, to being an integral part of a Buddhist's meditation ritual, tea as a drink is woven into the fabric of millions of lives around the world. After water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world. Global consumption of tea jumped 60% between 1993 and 2010 and we now drink more than 3 billion cups a day.
However, tea's future is uncertain. Climate change will hit the industry with force, with impacts already being felt in tea growing areas of Malawi and Assam. Tea also faces stiff competition for land for food. Whilst new markets are emerging, some traditional tea consuming markets are changing. For instance, consumption of black tea in the UK has shown a decrease of sales of 5% in the year to July 2014. A combination of lack of available labour, a need for higher wages and growing mechanisation, are all creating uncertainty in many tea growing regions. And for many, life as a tea grower is hard. The future of tea, as we know it, is at risk.
Enter Tea 2030
Led and facilitated by Forum for the Future, Tea 2030 brings together the leading organisations from across the sector to collaborate and help create a sustainable future for tea. Tea 2030 is formed of organisations representing the full breadth of the sector, producers, packers, brands, NGOs and trade associations. We are identifying the major challenges affecting tea and developing innovative solutions that will build a successful and sustainable sector across the globe.
But we don't want to just save tea, we believe there is great potential to go further and to make tea a 'hero crop' - one that doesn't just become a great product for years to come, but one that also helps to secure livelihoods and landscapes and that builds a deeper connection between producers and consumers. We want every cup of tea to better the lives of the people who produce it, improve the environment where it is grown, and contribute to a thriving global industry.
The story so far
Since Tea 2030 was formed in 2013, we have made considerable progress. We have identified the possible futures for tea and the challenges we need to overcome to ensure the best of those futures is realised. We have also identified three key areas, representing critical systemic challenges, which we refer to as our three 'collaboration platforms', from which to drive progress - these are looking at Sustainable Landscapes (helping growers focus on the most relevant environmental and social issues at a local level), Market Mechanisms (ensuring value creation for all those involved in the industry) and Engaging Consumers (building awareness of the need for sustainable tea amongst those with the purchase power). We have started building programmes that will address these challenges
But none of this is easy. Systemic challenges require systemic solutions, and bold leadership. This is why, in July 2015, we formed the Tea 2030 CEO group. The CEO group is formed of experienced, senior leaders from some of the world's largest businesses working in the sector. It is responsible for the strategic direction of Tea 2030, guided by advice from our cross-sector steering group. It will drive forward the next phase of Tea 2030 and provide a horizon scanning function for the industry; spotlighting key issues, understanding what's driving challenges and then galvanizing action to overcome them. It will also drive wider change across the industry, for example by influencing policy at a landscape level.
Another exciting step forward took place this week - Tea 2030 launched a new Online Exchange, and is inviting any business or organisation working in the tea industry to contribute to its success. The Exchange is being coordinated by 2degrees and will explore issues as diverse as landscape management, employment concerns and consumer engagement - essentially, anything affecting the production, processing and purchase of tea. We want the exchange to improve problem solving through greater collaboration and knowledge sharing between people across the world who are facing similar challenges.
The far-reaching benefits that go way beyond tea
The challenges facing tea are common to many global commodities. If we can show how collective action can drive solutions to big, difficult and complex challenges in tea, then there might be insights and practice to share with other commodities. From coffee to cotton, the life of a small holder in particular can be really tough. If Tea 2030 figures out some solutions, we intend to share these far and wide and do what we can to drive a sustainable food system for all.
Tea 2030 is therefore now calling on anyone involved in tea to come together to help meet the challenge - workers, growers, processors, traders, retailers and consumers - if you're part of the tea industry in any way, you need to be involved in this next, exciting phase of Tea 2030.