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The current phase of ITL is part of an ongoing story – one which has helped to transform thousands of lives across the world. In this article we revisit the ITL EqualiTea project in Bangladesh, which was supported through ITL funds from 2015 to 2019. The project helped poor and marginalised smallholder farmers to improve agricultural practices, diversify crops, enter the tea supply-chain and connect to other market players. Richard Todd, a long-term ITL supporter, visited the project in 2017. His visit is captured in the following video.

Recently Richard spoke to project partners, Traidcraft, to find how what has happened to these communities since the project funding ended. Below he shares his thoughts and reflections from this meeting.

When we visited the EqualiTea project in 2017 the 1,000 project participants had yet to start picking tea. This only started after Christian Aid’s funding ended, by which time the tea bushes were ready for picking.

Four years on and the tea growers are now harvesting a better yield than anticipated. This is despite sometimes picking more leaf than just the tips, which reduces the quality of the tea. In addition, good prices are being obtained on behalf of growers by the local committee negotiating on their behalf. As a result, household incomes are growing and the standard of living of group members is improving. After years in the doldrums, the local economy in the isolated northwest of Bangladesh is improving relative to other regions of the country.

Tea remains the only cash crop in this region which is a risk to establishing more secure livelihoods. However, more men are remaining in the area, not only relying on their wives’ income but also starting their own businesses, thus keeping the money locally and fuelling the more diversified local economy.

Community groups are confident of standing alone. However, these are early days in understanding the tea market. In their optimism they are thinking of developing a local brand which could result in better prices. Also they would like their own local tea processing factory although finding capital for this would not be easy.

As contributors to ITL I am encouraged by this update from Traidcraft who have been the technical advisers over the past ten years. After advising initially on nurturing the tea bushes their focus now is about relationships with processing factories and accessing the market for tea.

The expected productive life of tea bushes means that smallholder tea growing communities knew they would benefit over more than forty years. The tea leaves now being picked are the early shoots of a lifetime’s return on the investment. The ‘Lifetime’ element of ITL is very evident in this project.  Formerly poor farmers are now proud of their small tea gardens and will have something to pass on to the next generation.

Richard Todd