When this blog first began over a dozen years ago, one of the goals of the founders was to increase tea consumption. Not only is tea tasty and offering endless variety, there are some four thousand years of anecdotal evidence of teas’ medicinal and health benefits. As world consumption and demand for tea continues to increase, an unintended consequence has been the displacement of endangered species. While we all love elephants, a tea worker’s life can be ended with a single swipe of a ginormous trunk. The conflict with tigers and their kin is so well-documented that there are several teas with “tiger” and “lion” in their titles.
“Tea gardens represent a significant chunk of the forests that have been cut down.” (Source)
In an effort to preserve both forest creatures and tea estates, the University of Montana has created the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) outlining standards and incentives to protect endangered species. A side benefit has been that tea farmers who adopt wildlife-friendly practices such as buffer zones and areas for the animals to drink and rest – can often sell their “elephant-friendly” tea for higher prices.
Two questions linger: is the larger market willing to pay higher prices, and are those higher prices worth the sacrifices tea growers make?