Assessing the Social and Economic Benefits of Organic and Fair Trade Tea Production for Small-Scale Farmers in Asia: A Comparative Case Study of China and Sri Lanka

Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 2015, 31: 246-257.

Organic agriculture has the potential to provide improved livelihood opportunities, increased income and social benefits for resource-poor small-scale farmers. It has thus become a popular strategy for economic development and poverty reduction in many areas of the global south. However, there has been limited empirical research regarding the actual benefits of certified organic production, particularly when organic is combined with fair trade certification, and for small-scale farmers who are not engaged in coffee or banana production. Further research is needed to demonstrate experiences of farmers under diverse socioeconomic conditions, organizational contexts and degrees of market access. To address these gaps, two surveys of certified organic and fair trade tea producers in China and Sri Lanka were undertaken to investigate the contributions of organic crops to the household economy. In both cases, organic production required lower investment in terms of external inputs but a higher input of farmers’ labor. The price premium received by farmers for the organic tea compensated for the extra labor input and lower yield, resulting in a net profit. However, given the relatively small plots of tea gardens of each household, organic production could not fully provide for the households’ livelihood. Non-farm income dominated the total income of the households across the study cases, despite the earnings from organic farming. In both sites, market-oriented organic tea projects have created more options for paid work locally, which benefits women of reproductive age. Social benefits of organic farming were also reported. Pursuing fair trade certification on top of organic production facilitated farmer organizing, training and community development. Organic agriculture and fair trade certification offer important prospects to improve the livelihoods of small-scale farmers in other, less favored areas of Asia. These forms of certified production could provide economic and social benefits in instances where farm income is the main source of household income.

Yuhui Qiao, Niels Halberg, Saminathan Vaheesan and Steffanie Scott