The scheme which features in the Co-op's high profile new TV advertising campaign, has just won important backing from Britain's Department for International Development (DFID).
Co-op's ad shows tea picker Betty, one of 11,000 Kenyan tea growers being helped to form co-operatives and win Fairtrade status.
Although the west African country is a major producer of the tea Britain drinks, the global supply chain means that most of the profits end-up with multi-national companies. For every £1.60 box of tea sold in a British supermarket, a tea picker gets just 1p, according to anti-poverty campaigners, War on Want.
Fairtrade certification will guarantee tea pickers a minimum price for their tea and mean that small scale tea farmers can supply tea for the Co-operative’s ‘99’ Fairtrade tea blend.
“In Kenya we are funding a unique co-operative development programme,” the co-op said. “one of our most ambitious – bringing 10,000 small-holder tea farmers together as co-operatives, helping them to become Fairtrade certified and giving them a market for their tea. This is the largest project of its type ever created.”
The first co-operative hopes to start selling its Fairtrade tea to the supermarket before the summer and is predicted to boost farmers' income by about 20 per cent.
"Trading with a large UK retailer will improve the lives of thousands of tea pickers like Betty in Kenya,” said Britain's Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell whose department is helping fund the project.
"Trade drives growth which in turn creates jobs and wealth in the poorest communities. Through trade we can help people to pull themselves out of poverty. Ensuring farmers and other producers get a fair price for their produce and effort is central to this. Schemes like these which link farmers in Africa with UK companies remove the obstacles which prevent them.”
Tea pickers earn less than £40 a month – less than half a living wage. And picking tea is back-breaking work. The houses they live in are also very tiny and can hardly cater fora family with children and many workers struggle to pay their children's school fees. In Kenya, high school fees cost about four month's wages for a tea picker, so most of children drop out.