Trustea, a domestically developed sustainability certification programme funded by Tata Global Beverages, Hindustan Unilever and others, is mulling the idea of certifying teas sold to consumers on sustainability and quality parameters.
This is aimed at catering to the growing preference of buyers opting for ethically sourced teas and other branded commodities. This way, it will help in back-end sustainability for the tea sector and plantation companies, believes Trustea. While also opening a revenue stream which will help it arrange for own funds and not depend solely on grants from founding partners. Trustea, from being a certifying organisation, is evolving into a not-for-profit company under the name of Trustea Tea Sustainability Foundation. Thus, it will be in need of funds.
“By 2020, we hope to roll out our certification programme at the retail level. The emphasis will be on the domestic market,” said Rajesh Bhuyan, director.
Currently, its operations are limited to the bulk tea level, the stage when packeteers and blenders buy either directly from the planter or at auctions. At the moment, the primary source of funding for Trustea is from the grants it receives from the founding members. It also levies a charge on tea estates and small tea growers (STGs) for the audit before a certification is given.
However, the growth of its certification has been falling in recent years. In 2016, it certified 204 million kg of tea to be safe and sustainable. This had dropped to 138 mn kg in 2017 and 99 mn kg in last year.
“We need more field support so that the volume of tea which we certify can increase. So, we are partnering with Tea Research Association (TRA) and Action for Food Production (AFPRO) to reach out to a wider base,” Bhuyan said.
Assam-based TRA is the technological backbone of the industry. It closely works with plantation companies and STGs in Assam and the northeast and in West Bengal. AFPRO works with poorer sections of the rural community, to help movement towards sustainable development through an overall increase in the latter's knowledge and skills.
Of 180,000 STGs in the country, 51,463 are certified by Trustea; also, 341 tea estates.
Trustea will also be experimenting with an Android-based mobile app from next month. The aim is to help in traceability of tea from the growing stage till it is processed and sold to packeteers and bulk buyers.
Under this programme, each of the STGs, aggregators, transporters and trucks, factories and all other stakeholders in the process of tea production would be given a unique QR code, with blockchain-centred technology to keep track. In any pilferage or adulteration, Trustea will then be able to detect the exact stage and spot where this happened. A buyer will get to know the exact origin of tea leaves, how and where it was handled and finally processed, before making a purchase decision.
In recent times, quality has become a major talk point, after the Tea Board started taking active measures against sub-standard products. Plantation companies also feel better quality will help in improved prices.