tea money: how fair trade is funding hospitals, tuition and clean drinking water in tea communities

[or, How Rishi Tea and the Xuan En Organic Fair Trade Cooperative are rocking the Fair Trade World]

October is Fair Trade month, and to celebrate this and all the wonderful Fair Trade activity that has gone on this month (benefiting both farmers and tea drinkers alike!) I wanted to showcase the Xuan En Fair Trade Organic cooperative in Southwest Hubei, China.

These guys are one of Rishi Tea’s partners and they represent about 2,300 families in the area, a total of about 8,000 people.

But first, what exactly is “Fair Trade”

Fair Trade is an alternative economic model that strives for global economic justice by honoring a fair price for products, fair wages and safe working conditions to workers, direct trade, environmental sustainability and community investment in developing countries worldwide. Fair Trade projects work to eliminate unnecessary middlemen, enabling and empowering the farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global market.

Fair Trade Certified projects guarantee fair prices for products and offer an additional fund known as a “social premium.” The social premium is invested directly back into the communities of the workers through educational, social and cultural development.

The fund generated from the sale of the tea grown by this co-op has had a real, tangible effect of the people and villages of the area in lots of different ways; here are a couple of examples:

  • In 2008 the Fair Trade Cooperative developed a general hospital, pharmacy and ambulance service to operate in the remote areas of the tea mountain where the poorest tea farmers live. Doctors and nurses from hospitals in Hubei were recruited to remote Xuan En County with the support of Fair trade funds.
  • An educational fund was developed to pay the tuition of middle school and university age students from poor tea farming families that can’t afford to pay for school, room and board fees.
  • More than 6 miles of road were developed so the poorest farmers from a remote village without a road could get their fresh picked tea leaves to the factory.
  • The Cooperative regularly uses funds to help the medical costs of a poor family from Bai Hu Shan Village whose only son recently became a disabled burn victim during an accident when the boy was left at home.
  • Fair Trade funds continue to be used for widespread reconstruction and improvements of the village’s facilities for drinking water and tea field irrigation.

“So, where is Xuan En?” I hear you ask.

Xuan En Country is located within the hinterlands of the Tujia and Miao ethnic minority group’s autonomous prefecture of Central China’s Hubei Province. Jeff Fuchs has spoken a bit about tea and indigenous communities – and the fact that with this partnership supports this type of community just makes me smile.

The long long long history of tea in Xuan En.

This area has an ancient, ancient history (over 1,300 years!) of green tea production and also became an important black tea producing area in the 19th Century.  Tea production was first recorded in the “Jingzhou Land Note” of the West-Jing Dynasty (265 AD-316 AD). At that time, Xuan En County belonged to Wuling eparchy where at that time most of the people were engaged in cultivation of high quality tribute tea.

In the period of Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty (1735 AD-1796 AD), the tea farmer Wu Changchen who lived in Xuan En’s Wujiatai area produced superior green tea, which had excellent performance in color, aroma, flavor, and leaf shape.  This tea was presented to the emperor as a tribute and was awarded a golden plaque inscribed with “Huang En Chong Xi” (the great favor of the emperor).  From then on, Xuan En’s tea was given as a tribute to the palace for hundreds of years, hence comes the name “Wujiatai Fuxi Cha”(means Tribute Tea from Wujiatai).

You can learn more about Rishi Tea’s Fair Trade practices and programmes here; you can also see Joshua of Rishi Tea in the Tea Mavericks panel, it’s a great video – set aside an hour, get a pot and start watching.   One of the points that Joshua makes is that the tea industry in North America is quite collaborative – there is room for everyone to do their thing, and no end of people to benefit at a local level.  I think this case study also shows that there is always room to make another tea community better by dealing with them in an ethical and fair manner.  Doesn’t that just make you happy?!, that you can be make a real difference to a community and the resources that they have simply by making a responsible and fair choice when you buy your tea.

Lastly, if you want to read more about best practices when it comes to tea around the world, be sure to check out The Sustainable Leaf. Sean writes about sustainable tea farming and agriculture and about news in this sector, you can also read an interview that I did with Sean here.

5 Responses to “tea money: how fair trade is funding hospitals, tuition and clean drinking water in tea communities”
  1. shopmayu says:

    This is a great post! I love learning about Fair Trade tea. I like to sit under my Fair Trade alpaca throw and drink this type of tea. And, thanks for sharing the photos of tea. Most people have no idea where their tea is coming from 🙂

    Kate Robertson
    Founder, Mayu

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Food Pot and The Food Pot, deb @travelandtea. deb @travelandtea said: Tea Money: how fair trade is funding hospitals tuition & clean drinking water in tea communities: http://t.co/45WVYKT #tea #fairtrade #China […]

  2. […] you may know from previous posts on this site; I’m a firmly believer in Fair Trade principles and in doing your best to support […]

  3. […] you may know from previous posts on this site; I’m a firmly believer in Fair Trade principles and in doing your best to support […]

  4. […] to covered some other great tea companies that are doing some neat things in the CSR space, such as Rishi Tea, Runa and BOH Tea and now I’m so pleased to be able to add Canada’s nourishtea to this […]

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