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Kibagenge, Kenya

“Kibagenge”: “Coming together as one”: An innovative tea supply chain

Small-scale tea farmers face numerous challenges. The global price of tea is highly unstable and with only a small farm, individual growers often have no bargaining power to negotiate decent terms of trade. In a Department for International Development-supported project, 11,000 small holder tea producers in Kenya, along with The Co-operative Group, The Co operative Colleges of the UK and Kenya, Africa Now and Finlays (a UK-based tea blender and packer, who supply the Co-operative Group’s 99 tea) are working together to address these challenges and build a better future for Kenyan tea farmers. Each partner brings a unique contribution in this co-operative to co-operative venture.

The Co-operative College UK designed the training to help the farmers to establish their own co-operatives along with the Co-operative College of Kenya, which also delivered the training on the ground. The Co-operative Group is co-funding the project and aims to buy tea and potentially other products from the Kenyan producer co-operatives once they are established.

Taking control of their business…

The first stage of the project is to support the farmers as they form into five producer co-operatives. This will give them a stronger voice in negotiations and the ability to build a business that they collectively own and share the profits from. Hence the farmers have named the project “Kibagenge” or “coming together as one” in their local language.

By forming into co-operatives, the producers will buy their members’ tea for sale to Finlays and other markets, taking their business fully into their own hands. The next stage is for the co-operatives to achieve Fairtrade certification, which will guarantee a minimum price for their tea and make them eligible to supply into The Co-operative Group’s ‘99’ Fairtrade tea blend. They will also receive the Fairtrade premium to invest this into their communities.

Much more than a cup of tea!

Many of the farmers involved in the project are over-dependent on tea at the moment and an important aspect of the initiative is to support them to diversify into other crops for possible export to The Co-operative Group and other international markets, as well as to local markets. Brad Hill, Fairtrade Strategy Manager at the Co-operative Group, says:

“This really is co-operation in action…We believe this to be the largest Fairtrade project ever instigated by a supermarket from scratch and look forward to delivering benefits to the newly created co-operatives through Fairtrade certification and market access.”

Betty Cheshang, a tea smallholder who is now a member of one of the newly formed co-operatives adds:

“Since I joined the co-operative we have seen a lot of revolution and we are getting a fairer deal.”

Indeed, the project does look set to start somewhat of a revolution. The success of the first tea co-operatives being set up has stimulated interest from surrounding areas and other farmers are pressing ahead to form and register their own co-operatives, work together to build collective strength and take control of their business. The Kibagenge project has featured in The Co-operative Group’s recent ‘Join the Revolution’ campaign. To watch a film about the project and to find more information about how to get involved, visit the Join the Revolution website: