Brewing a Sustainable Future: Certifying Kenya’s Smallholder Tea Farmers, 2007–2017


In 2007, multinational consumer goods company Unilever launched a partnership with the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) to help bring Kenya’s more than 500,000 small-scale tea farmers up to the certification standard set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a global coalition of environmental organizations. To participate, farmers had to fulfill dozens of criteria related to worker safety, environmental management, and agricultural practices. The KTDA, a private company that had been government run until 2000, was able to roll out certification quickly and on an unprecedented scale, thanks to its large market share, its rapport with farmers, the willingness of multinational companies to support high-quality sustainably grown tea, and funding by donor organizations. By mid 2016, all of Kenya’s smallholders had met certification standards, and Unilever’s flagship Lipton brand was selling 100%-certified tea. Soon after, other major global brands met the same target. Farmers pointed to increased yields, stronger health and safety procedures, and improved livelihoods as benefits of the certification initiative.

Blair Cameron drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Kenya in January and February 2017. The British Academy-Department for International Development Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) Program funded the development of this case study. Case published May 2017.

Rainforest Alliance
Sustainable Agriculture Network
environmental protection
tea factories
Focus Area(s)
Natural Resources
Critical Tasks
Certification systems
Collective action problems
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Blair Cameron