Thirst for sustainability
One of the main threats to the country's tea industry is deforestation - we have been working with local environmental groups to protect Kenya's delicate biodiversity.
The rich volcanic soils of Kenya's Rift Valley, coupled with the country's cool air and moist tropical climate, create the perfect environment for tea to grow. Tea plants require regular rainfall of 1200-2000 mm well distributed throughout the year to produce their best leaves. The country's forests have always been one of the key factors in ensuring that Kenya's rainfall patterns remain stable as they improve the efficiency of water catchments, so the risk of deforestation is a serious one.
Why are trees so important?
Indigenous trees have been lost mainly through firewood collection and it is estimated that Kenya needs to plant 100 million trees a year to restore the lost and declining forests. As well as improving water catchments, they provide habitats for birds and insects, shade for animals and recreation and medicines for local people. For example Warburgia ugandensis is used to treat chest pains and coughs and Syzygium aids diabetes and high blood pressure and also provides food for bush babies.
Preserving Mau Forest
Unilever Tea Kenya teamed up with Friends of the Mau Watershed (FOMAWA), an environmental charity set up to reverse the rapid depletion of the Mau Forest which counts among the five largest water catchments in Kenya. In the nearby Kericho region, the tea industry and around three million local people depend on the forest.
Each year we contribute around 240 000 Kenyan shillings (around €2 800) to FOMAWA to fund a field worker, whose job is to promote tree planting in schools and farms in the area. His work also entails creating awareness of the need to protect indigenous forests.
Since December 2003, we have also been supporting the conservation organisation WWF, which runs conservation programmes in the Mau Forest and other important forest ecosystems. Our alliance is co-ordinated primarily through WWF's Corporate Club of Eastern Africa, which aims to harness the support of other companies in the region.
The Club's activities include rehabilitating degraded forest areas, supporting communities to establish tree nurseries and raising environmental awareness. "The Club target now is to carry out farmer-friendly conservation approaches and provide alternative sources of income to ease pressure on the Mau Forest," explains Dr Kwame Koranteng, WWF's regional representative.
We are also working with WWF to raise environmental consciousness among our staff and business partners in Kenya, as well as taking steps to improve our environmental practices.
To mark the millennium we established our Trees 2000 project. This aims to increase biodiversity, complement existing conservation and environmental protection programmes, and provide an amenity for staff and the neighbouring community.
By the end of 2007, nearly 250 000 trees had been donated to the local community. Seven tree nurseries, including one on our Kericho Chebown tea estate were set up to house over 320 000 seedlings. These were subsequently planted on our estates, where we have set aside 14% of our land as natural forest or conservation areas. Altogether, by the beginning of 2008, Trees 2000 has contributed 620 000 trees to Kenya's landscape.