First International Tea Day sees call for joint action to ensure sustainability of tea sector

Celebrating the cultural heritage, health benefits and economic importance of the iconic beverage

21 May 2020, Rome  - FAO today marked International Tea Day by stressing the crucial need to ensure the sustainability of tea production - a basis for the livelihoods of millions of farmers - especially at a time when the world economy enters a recession and incomes decline as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to the current pandemic, the first observance of International Tea Day was held virtually.   

"Tea, as a source of employment and revenue, can help alleviate some of the hardships resulting from the current economic downturn", said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in his opening remarks at the ceremony.

Highlighting its vital contribution to fighting hunger, reducing extreme poverty, empowering women, while safeguarding ecosystems and biodiversity, Qu encouraged all stakeholders to forge partnerships and concrete projects to further sustainably develop the tea sector.

To build a more productive and resilient tea sector, the FAO chief stressed the need for better policies, more innovation, increased investments and greater inclusiveness in tea production and processing.

He also highlighted the social, cultural and health dimensions of tea.

Today's event was held under the theme "Harnessing benefits for all from field to cup". It brought together representatives from the world's top tea exporting and importing countries as well as major producing countries where tea cultivation is an important source of jobs and income, including Argentina, China, India, Indonesia, Kenya and the Republic of Korea.

Other participants included Jianyun Ruan, Chairperson of the Intergovernmental Group on Tea, China; Dr Sharon Hall, Chief Executive, UK Tea Jongcheol Kim, Director of the Institute of Hadong Green Tea, Republic of Korea, Sangki Yoon Mayor of Hadong, Republic of Korea; and John Snell, tea expert and sommelier from Canada.

In addition to the tea's socio-economic benefits, the speakers highlighted its importance as cultural heritage and discussed its health and nutritional aspects including the beverage's anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and weight loss effects.

Today's event also showcased FAO´s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) programme since four of the designated sites are tea growing locations. These sites are unique examples of how ancestral agricultural practices can successfully contribute to the sustainable management of natural resources, biodiversity and adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

A sustainable tea sector for sustainable development

Tea is the world's most consumed drink, after water, and a major source of livelihoods and income for millions of families in developing countries. In fact, smallholders are responsible for 60 percent of world tea production. Despite its vital contribution to rural development and poverty alleviation, the sector still faces a number of challenges, including adverse weather impacts, access to markets for smallholder producers, lack of transparency and sustainability in the tea value chain.

Tea can only be produced in narrowly defined agro-ecological conditions and, hence, in a very limited number of countries, many of which are being already impacted by climate change.

To achieve greater sustainability in the sector, the panellists agreed on the need to develop strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation, promote market transparency and sustainability of the tea value chain and develop policies for sustainable tea production benefitting, first and foremost, smallholder farmers.

In December 2019, the United Nations General Assembly, supported the call from the Intergovernmental Group on Tea and proclaimed 21 May as the International Tea Day,  calling on FAO to lead the observance. The Day aims to raise awareness of the tea sector's socio-economic relevance as well as its contribution to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Photo: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto / FAO
International Tea Day aims to raise awareness of centuries-old traditions and deep cultural and economic significance of tea around the world.