Income Generation for Ethnic Minorities by producing Organic Green Tea

Income Generation for Ethnic Minorities by producing Organic Green Tea

Project Duration: Since May 2016

Project Partner(s): SODI, Germany

Project Region: Gudalur Block of the Nilgiri District, Tamil Nadu

Target Group: 500 small-scale tea farmers

Principal Objective: Poverty alleviation by generating income through the cultivation and processing of organic green tea


The Nilgiris Hills are famous for their tea plantations, with environmental conditions perfect for cultivating tea. A number of government agencies, such as the Tea Board of India or the Horticulture Department are actively encouraging small-scale tea farming in the region and are providing technical assistance to small tea farms. CTRD has been working with Adivasi small-scale tea farmers since the 1990s to make their tea cultivation more profitable by teaching them good agricultural practices such as pruning, the application of fertilizer and manure, soil testing and leaf plucking. A major focus has always been on environmental conservation by supporting organic tea cultivation and on promoting sustainable livelihoods by enabling them to earn a monthly income.

Originally, the Adivasi ethnic groups in Tamil Nadu had been hunters and gatherers and the forest served as their principal livelihood. In the 1980s, however, the Government of India introduced the cultivation of Green Tea as a cash crop to the Nilgiri Hills. Due to the deforestation to set up tea plantations and the implementation of a national land conservation law to establish natural reserves, the Adivasi were no longer able to practice their traditional life. They became subsistence farmers with growing crops and keeping animals merely to feed themselves. Due to the rising need for a reliable monthly income to pay for instance for education and health, subsistence farming was no longer a viable option. In order to have a regular income many families gave up subsistence farming and, instead, started to cultivate tea in their villages in the 1990s. With little knowledge on farming techniques and tea marketing they have been facing several ecological and economic challenges such as soil erosion and degradation, decreasing yields and a high dependency on middlemen, which causes low incomes and acute poverty.


In May 2016, CTRD established a holistic long-term project in cooperation with the German non-governmental organization SODI on regular income generation for small-scale farmers through cultivating and processing organic and fair traded green tea. The target groups are 500 tea farmers of the indigenous minorities of the Adivasi, who live in 150 villages in the Gudalur Block of the Nilgiri District. They are small-scale farmers and cultivate tea plantations with a size of 0.25-2 hectares. The principal measures include:

  • The conversion to organic tea cultivation for all 500 farmers
  • Regular trainings on soil- and water management, mixed culture, organic manure and pesticides, and improved tea cultivation techniques
  • Capacity building for the Tribal Farmer Association (practice management skills)
  • The establishment of a nursery, local tea leaf collection centers, and an own tea factory
  • Organic certification for all farmers and fair trade certification to receive fair prices for the tea produce
  • Establishment of long-term trade relations to market tea in national and international markets

The measures aim to improve the yield and quality of the tea and to process the leaves in an own factory to add value to the product and to sell it at a fair price. So far, all 500 farmers have converted to organic agriculture and will be certified as organic in October, 2017. Besides tea, the farmers also cultivate silver oak, pepper, coffee, and fruit trees such as mango, papaya and coconut in a mixed culture. The trees spend shade for the tea leaves and the harvest serves as additional income for the farmers. The tribal Green Valley Tea Factory will be opened in January 2018 and run by the Adivasi community itself – by the Tribal Tea Farmer Producer Company. The company offers around 25 jobs in management, manufacturing and leaf collection from own set up collection centers in the region. In regular trainings by external coaches and the participation in the Tribal Farmer Association and Self Help Groups they will gain the necessary expertise to run the factory. The factory’s income will be invested in social projects for the Adivasi again to ensure long-term socio-economic security for the tribal communities. In the upcoming years an extension of the project is planned to include another 500 tribal tea farmers in the organic tea production process. The expansion to include 1000 farmers in total enables a larger capacity utilization of the factory, a guaranteed purchase at a fair price for more tribal farmers and, thus, more long-term income stability for those families.