Vinay Devaiah has been manager of Thiashola Tea Estate since June 2006.
Vinay Devaiah is married with a baby boy, born in November 2009. He trained as a mechanical engineer and previously worked in the tea industry for two and a half years as a tea broker and tea taster. His day starts at 7am when he allots the day’s duties to the male workers. During the day he supervises and checks the quality of plucking, spraying and weeding in the tea fields. In the evenings he records the volumes of green leaf plucked and the fields sprayed, before planning the work schedule for the following day.
We were keen to join Fairtrade as a means of giving something back to our workers. The Fairtrade premium is a means of empowering workers and is considered a goodwill gesture to strengthen the good relationship that exists.
Thiashola Tea Estate state is located in the picturesque Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu, the main tea growing area of south India. It was certified organic in 2003 and Fairtrade certified in January 2008. The estate extends to 190 hectares (470 acres) at an average altitude of 2,000 (6,500 ft) metres and employees around 400 workers, mostly female tea pluckers. It has an annual production of around 4.5 million kg (4,500 tonnes) of black and green tea, with around 60% of sales going to the Fairtrade market.
In the 1980s and 1990s tea growers in south India largely switched to producing tea for the low quality tea bag market, using the Crush, Tear and Curl (CTC) method. In recent years many growers have struggled to survive or abandoned production because of low auction prices and lack of demand for their tea as traditional buyers turned to better value Kenyan tea.
Thiashola took the strategic decision to continue producing high quality Orthodox tea which it is successfully marketing to higher value export markets, particularly in Germany, Australia and the UK. In the UK, tea from Thiashola is included in the blend for Clipper Fairtrade Organic Earl Grey tea bags.
Fairtrade Premium Projects
Fairtrade standards include a minimum price which is calculated to cover the costs of sustainable production. The Fairtrade premium is an additional sum designated specifically for the estate workers to invest in social projects of their choice to improve their lives. A committee of elected workers’ representatives has co-ordinated a number of projects that have already brought real benefits to the workers:
- Free installation of cable TV to all workers’ houses
- Increased access to medical treatment to five days a week by paying an additional doctor for two days
- Free twice-monthly medical camps with access to specialists such as a dentist, eye surgeon and gynaecologist
- Provision of gas cookers – healthier than smoky fires and women no longer have to spend an hour or more every day collecting firewood
- Scholarships to help with tuition fees and other expenses of college and university students
- School bus to transport students to the secondary school 15km away at Manjoor
- Purchase of two computers to provide free training for children
- Low-interest loan scheme to finance income-generating schemes such as purchase of sewing machines, keeping cows, goats and chicken to sell their milk, meat and eggs
- Construction of a community hall available for weddings and other social events
- Construction of a mini hydroelectric plant to augment the unreliable existing power supply (spring 2010)
- Tree-planting programme to tackle deforestation and climate change.