Zera* is a 39-year-old mother of three who works as an informal tea picker at several farms in Meru county

Empowering tea communities in Kenya

Kenya and tea: the facts   

Kenya is Africa’s largest producer of tea. Kenya is the third largest producer of tea in the world, behind only India and Sri Lanka. As a result, the crop plays a huge role in the country’s economy, with around three million people earning their livelihoods from the sector.

Approximately 60% of tea in Kenya is produced on small-scale family farms. Women smallholder farmers and informal workers play a vital role in the industry making up the majority of the tea workforce.

About the partnership

In partnership with its member companies Taylors of Harrogate and Lavazza Professional, this three-year collaboration with the Ethical Tea Partnership will empower smallholder farmers and informal workers in three tea growing communities in Kenya.

Together ActionAid and Ethical Tea Partnership will consult farmers and workers to understand the issues they face and the impact of industry practices on their lives. We will also work directly with the Kenyan Tea Development Agency (KTDA) and other stakeholders to improve policies and working practices in the industry. Whilst 80% of programme participants will be women, we will also engage men as allies in all aspects of the programme.

What we are doing

In partnership we are:

Building an environment where human rights are upheld, protected and respected.

Ensuring the right policies are in place in the tea sector to ensure decent work and fair pay for farmers and workers.

Supporting farmers and workers to organise into Solidarity Groups and train Rights Champions to help others learn about and claim their rights.

Convening with key industry and government stakeholders so that farmers and workers can raise concerns and plan for and implement improvements.

Supporting women as they work to claim their right to freedom from violence.

Supporting the formation of women’s groups and networks amplify women’s voices, support women to challenge gender norms and discuss and claim their rights to freedom from violence.

Challenging gender-based violence and support survivors of violence to access essential services and legal aid.

Establishing a platform for dialogue with local government to advance women’s land rights, which are essential for raising women’s status and ending violence.

Training tea industry management to improve working practices and tackle gender-based violence.

Improving access to essential public services for tea workers and their families, including water, housing, healthcare and education.

Conducting a study on what is driving children to drop out of school and conducting a ‘back to school’ campaign in partnership with the local government authorities.

Supporting Solidarity Groups to develop Community-Led Change Plans (CLCPs) and provide training so that they can hold local governments accountable for their commitments.

Improving the livelihoods for smallholder farmers and informal workers.

Supporting women smallholder farmers and informal workers to diversify their incomes through access to entrepreneurship training and finance.

Establishing a sustainable programmatic model for scale-up.

Working with the Solidarity Groups, local government authorities and Kenya Tea Development Agency to embed the programme within communities with the ambition of scaling up to more communities in future.

Through this partnership we aim to establish 45 Solidarity groups across the 3 communities and training 1,350 Rights Champions, 80% of whom will be women. These Rights Champions will help improve the lives of 22,000 farmers and workers and their families.

Together, we will also bring about structural change within the Kenyan tea sector by influencing policy changes that will have a positive impact on approximately 300,000 small-scale farmers and 600,000 informal tea workers in Kenya.

Tea-pickers in Kenya. ActionAid

What we have achieved so far

Since the partnership started in January 2022, we have established 52 groups for smallholder farmers and informal workers in three communities.

Through the groups 1,242 Rights Champions, 901 women and 341 men, have been trained who in turn support others to learn about and claim their rights from the duty bearers. The groups have taken part in training on women’s rights and local government responsibility for providing essential public services, such as health care, education, water and housing that respond to the needs of women and girls.  

Three multi-stakeholder platforms have been established, one in each community, providing networks that link communities to duty bearers (such as community leaders, government officials, child protection services, police and court prosecutors) and enable conversations around rights issues, child labour, sexual and gender-based violence, support for survivors of violence, and provision of improved public services by the government in tea growing communities.  

The platforms have been instrumental in establishing community led local reporting mechanisms, providing channels for community members to report rights violations and have these addressed in a timely manner.  

We have supported women and girls across the three communities to address gender-based violence, through training, regular meetings and strengthening women’s networks. 81 women’s champions have been identified and supported to train other members of the community through a training-of-trainers model. A total of 1,876 people so far have been reached with information on their rights and the laws and policies in place to prevent sexual and gender-based violence. 

153 survivors of violence have been supported to access justice through referrals to medical, psychosocial and legal support. A survivors’ network was also established in one project community, providing a safe space for survivors to meet and share experiences, access support services, and discuss ways to increase their income through alternative options.  

In another project community, the community were supported to submit their first ever memorandum to their County Government outlining their priority needs. As a result, two roads were constructed, and two hospitals were equipped with maternity wards.  

To improve livelihoods across the three communities, 41 groups have been supported to legally register and adopt the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model, enabling people to save and to access loans to improve their incomes. 

As well as the work to support smallholder farmers and informal workers, through the project so far, we have reported and supported 42 cases of child labour, 26 cases of child abuse and 56 cases of out of school children.  

The project has also completed a review of key laws and policies in the tea sector, providing a useful tool to advocate for improvements in the sector and for policy violations to be addressed.  

Tea-picking in Kenya

Zera, 39, is a mother of three who has worked as a tea picker for the past 18 years.

She told us about the challenging working conditions tea pickers face as well as her hopes for the future after learning about workers’ rights and alternative income sources in ActionAid’s training.

Zera talks about the poor living and working conditions of tea pickers: from the poor housing with basic facilities, provided by employers, to the lack of protective clothing or shelter from the rain on the farms.

She reports that farmers sometimes refuse to pay them for the tea they've picked if it is rejected at the collection centre. Children of tea workers often help their parents pick tea while on school holidays, she says.

Zera believes that all the challenges the community face come from the low wages they earn and she would like to see support for them to develop alternative sources of income. Zera has attended ActionAid training and started learning about her rights as a worker.

“We have benefited from the ActionAid training. We learnt a lot of new things that we didn’t know before. We didn’t know we had any rights as tea workers, but we were taught about them, and I was happy”.


Zera* is a 39-year-old mother of three who works as an informal tea picker at several farms in Meru county.

Rehema Baya/ Africa Film Network/ActionAid

Durah*, 39, works as a supervisor on several tea estates and is a smallholder farmer.


Climate change and poverty affects women the most

Durah, 39, works as a tea farm supervisor and owns a small piece of land that produces around 200kg of tea a month.

She says that women working as tea pickers face high levels of violence, exacerbated by the conditions of poverty they are living in. She also told us about the lack of effective reporting and support mechanisms in place for survivors.

Tea pickers usually work with one farm but once those tea bushes are exhausted, they must walk long distances to find other farms with tea to pick. Tea production is impacted by climate change, she says. 

“I think what ActionAid taught us at the training will help us because we raised our issues and it was good. If women were organised into groups and given seed money after some formal training it may help them, especially the single mothers.”


Rights for tea-pickers and farmers

Margaret is the local ward agricultural officer within Meru County.

She has worked within the Ministry of Agriculture since 1987. She told us about the challenges facing both tea pickers and farmers within a difficult economy and her hopes to standardise the labour rights of workers.

She shared that tea pickers are marginalised because they live in poor accommodation and don’t have power to decide how they work. They live hand-to-mouth because there are no organised platforms for them.

“The project is the first time we have heard about a plan to educate farmers on workers’ rights. We expect to see major changes with this structure ActionAid is bringing to the tea sector. Employers have value for that kilogram of tea that the worker is picking and they should have even more value for the human being who is enabling them to have it.”

Margaret, an agricultural officer in Meru County, discusses the lack of representation for tea pickers within the tea supply chain.

Rehema Baya/ActionAid

Zera* is a 39-year-old mother of three who works as an informal tea picker at several farms in Meru county. Photo: Rehema Baya / Africa Film Network /ActionAid

Page updated 7 June 2024