Firsd Tea's 2022 Sustainability Perspectives Report provided food for thought in the areas of people, planet and certification considerations, but there were a few more interesting data points worth noting. One that stands out is the perception of producing countries.
It is important to keep in mind that the above graph displays respondents' PERCEPTIONS of sustainability practices in these countries, not necessarily a metric of the actual conditions and practices.
There is good indication that these perceptions are not limited to respondents in a single country or hemisphere. The breakdown of overall respondents included 41% USA, 18% India, 5% Canada, 4% UK and 32% other. Respondents also spanned the value chain to include wholesalers (28%), marketing/sales (15%), importers (14%), exporters (12%), and other (28%).
For those of us in businesses that use Chinese teas, these perceptions should signal a call to dispel misunderstandings about China's role in sustainable tea.
Firsd Tea has written about the contributions that China makes to sustainable teas, including:
China's sustainability efforts are the single greatest national contributor to sustainable teas on the globe.
Report data from Fair Trade USA reveals China contributed nearly half of all Fair Trade US certified tea. Chances are, consumers are not aware of the overwhelming contribution China makes to sustainable tea.
China is also the origin of half of all certified organic US tea imports. Granted- USDA Organic is not a sustainability initiative in itself, but certified organic teas are often one step closer to compliance with sustainability initiatives due to their guidelines on pesticide application.
Even though Rainforest tea programs are much larger in many African countries, China continues to gain ground, jumping up 101% in annual sales (MT) from 2018 to 2019. 2019 saw sales of over 14,000 metric tonnes of Rainforest certified teas from China.
China's domestic goals for food security and rural development also focus on sustainable targets achieved via sustainable practices. The nation's recent (2021) 5-Year Plan and No. 1 Document outline initiatives for rural revitalization that include improvements in rural infrastructure, electricity, health care, education, and environmental protection while also reducing pollution (including carbon neutrality by 2060).
The concerns and trends expressed in these Chinese policy documents directly impact the Chinese tea industry. For several years, China has been promoting the development of tea fields and training tea farms as a means of economic development in some of the most poverty-stricken counties. Firsd Tea's parent company Zhejiang Tea Group (ZJT) actively worked to donate tea cuttings, investing in local processing facilities, and contracting with these new tea farmers to market and sell their teas. Much of the nation's tea-related rural development is targeted in central and southwestern China, which coincides with the expanding amount of new tea field acreage that has been established in these areas in recent years.
China may have an image (and actual) problem with some of its agricultural products, but tea should not be one of them. China has been on a path towards producing an ever-increasing quality and quantity of sustainable teas that the whole world stands to benefit from. Firsd Tea aims to help change misperceptions and to see China's sustainable tea reputation improve to better match its actual contribution.