• Water for War-torn Ukraine

    Numi Tea Foundation distributes water filters, solar-powered devices to Ukrainians displaced by Russian invasion

    Maybe you’ve seen the photographs: People drinking water from muddy puddles. Families crouching in pitch-black basements or caves, with nothing to light their hideaways.

    These are the stories of millions of Ukrainians who have been displaced by the Russian invasion of their country. People have been forced to flee, leaving their families, friends, possessions. Their homes. Their homeland.

    Oakland-based Numi Organic Tea wanted to do something to help. They have a foundation—the Numi Foundation—that supports the communities where they farm, as well as people in need in the San Francisco Bay area, where their head office is located.

    Numi recognized that they have the resources, know-how, and connections to apply the clean-water work they’ve done in farming communities to help the people of Ukraine.

    With the support of Numi tea drinkers, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

    Numi has partnered with two organizations, Waves for Water and MPOWERD, to raise $1 million to provide clean, safe drinking water and solar-powered lights and charging devices to up to 550,000 displaced Ukrainians.

    The Together for H2OPE – Ukraine campaign will use a network of trained people in Ukraine to distribute the filters and devices to people who need it most, and provide a little light and a little hope to people in the war-torn country.

    Caption: An activist participating in Together for H2OPE – Ukraine adds a water filter to a bucket. The initiative aims to raise $1 million to distribute water filters to more than 550,000 displaced Ukrainians.

    Photo credits: Angela Nardolillo

    Listen to the interview
    A conversation with Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director of the Numi Foundation
    Activist participating in Together for H2OPE – Ukraine holds water bottles filled with clean water, ready to distribute to displaced Ukrainians.

    A conversation with Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director of the Numi Foundation

    Jessica Natale Woollard: The Numi Foundation’s Together for H2OPE initiative is currently focused on bringing clean water to displaced Ukrainians in their country. But it’s not the first time the foundation has supported clean water initiatives. So — why water?

    Water bottles ready to be filled with cleaned water provided by Numi’s Together for H2OPE campaign.

    Darian Rodriguez Heyman: The short answer is that you can’t make tea without it.

    Clean water and access to clean and safe drinking water is something we take for granted in this country. But more than 10% of the global population does not enjoy the same kind of access. 

    We started looking at access to clean water as a basic human right. It felt very relevant to the brand to make sure that people — especially the residents of our Numi farming communities — have access to the same clean and safe drinking water that we enjoy here.

    “Numi is unique in that we know the exact farm that 89% of our ingredients come from.”

    – Darian Rodriguez Heyman

    Jessica: So when you heard about the terrible war in Ukraine, you decided to apply your experience helping give Numi farming access to clean water to the Ukrainian people? 

    Darian: That’s exactly right.

    We had built up some expertise around fundraising, around project management, around finding the right partners to get clean water projects executed at scale and quickly in, for example, Madagascar, South Africa and India.

    When the Russian invasion happened, we heard about not only the five million refugees, but the seven million Ukrainians who were displaced and still trapped in the country — living in subways and in basements, and having to drink water out of dirty puddles and streams. We heard that access to clean water was one of the top needs for the Ukrainian people because of the war. It was something we felt compelled to act upon.

    Darian Rodriguez Heyman

    Jessica: Is Together for H2OPE focused on those displaced Ukrainians still in the country of Ukraine?

    Darian: Historically, the program has been focused on Numi farming communities specifically, but in this case we’ve repurposed the program and our network and expertise. 

    We’ve lined up partners specific to the Ukraine project that have relevant expertise. We’ve already started raising money; we’ve raised over $150,000 so far, which has enabled us to serve over 79,000 Ukrainians.

    But we’re not even close to done. The goal is to raise a million dollars and to help over 550,000 Ukrainians who are still trapped in country but displaced from their homes. We want to provide them access to clean and safe drinking water, but also clean solar-powered lighting as well as power so they can charge their phones and other devices and get access to lifesaving resources. 

    Jessica: What equipment are you distributing to help clean the water?  

    Darian: It’s a very simple water filter that fits on a bucket. 

    It’s standard; it has no moving parts, no electronics, and the typical water filter will last for 20 years. It’s good for over a million gallons without needing to be serviced or maintained. They’re built to be indestructible and perfect for a war-torn region and what’s happening in Ukraine right now.

    The other product is the MPOWERD solar powered light and charging station. People can use the sun to charge it, and then they can plug their phones in. They can access a light so that when they’re underground they’re able to see what they’re doing. 

    MPOWERD Lantern

    Jessica: How are you distributing these products on the ground in Ukraine? 

    Darian: We’re leveraging veterans as our boots on the ground.

    The main implementation partner that we’re working with is Waves for Water, and they’ve been around for over a dozen years. They’ve worked in over 40 countries and helped over four million people access clean water. 

    Their primary workforce is veterans who have a unique set of skills; they’re very comfortable in fluid environments and in war-torn regions. They work after natural disasters, after Haiti, in New Jersey, after Hurricane Sandy, where I grew up. 

    But they also worked in Afghanistan and places like that. They’re pretty comfortable diving, literally diving in, and getting the product to the borders. 

    A volunteer with Together for H2OPE – Ukraine stands with water bottles ready to be distributed.

    Jessica: I understand that every time someone purchases Numi Organic Tea, they are contributing to initiatives like Together for H2OPE — because the company diverts some of its profits to the foundation. 

    Can people contribute to Together for H2OPE any other way?

    Darian: Aside from buying Numi Organic Tea, which they’re always welcome to do, we are inviting donations.  We’re primarily directing those through Waves for Water.

    Jessica: Any final thoughts?

    Darian: Tea is a vehicle; it’s a platform. And Numi Tea firmly believes it’s a platform for mindfulness, for intentionality, and for ultimately creating the life in the world that we want to see, not only for ourselves, but for those around us. 

    Tea, by nature, is a communal drink. We’d love to see as many tea drinkers as possible join us in the effort to build a better world and make sure that each and every Ukrainian who’s been displaced from their home, whether they are a refugee and had to flee, or whether they’re still in the country, that they have access to the resources and support they need to rebuild their lives and rebuild their country.

    Numi Organic Tea knows the exact farm from which 89% of their ingredients come from, says Darian Rodriguez Heyman, the Numi Foundation’s executive director.
    Numi Organic Tea donates part of their profits to the Numi Foundation, helping fund campaigns to support farming communities where Numi sources tea as well as people in the San Francisco Bay Area, near the company’s main office.

    This interview has been edited and condensed.

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  • Q|A Ian Gibbs

    Tea Biz travels to the UK offices of the International Tea Committee where Chairman Ian Gibbs describes the immediate and potentially long-term impacts on the global tea trade stemming from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. According to Gibbs, the combination of sanctions and the collective refusal of the world’s largest container shipping companies to deliver or receive goods will interrupt tea shipments to Russia, but no one knows for how long.

    • Caption: Ian Gibbs, Chairman since 2016 of the International Tea Committee

    Hear the interview

    Ian Gibbs, Chairman of the International Tea Committee

    Payment Concerns Further Disrupt Global Tea Supply Chain

    On top of the upheaval in the tea trade caused by the pandemic, new worries include guaranteeing payment for containers of tea without violating sanctions while booking scarce carriers for shipments to the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Stocks of tea in Russia are adequate for several months, but the interruption of scheduled replenishment that averages 120 containers a week will invariably lead to shortages.

    As the ruble’s value collapses, Russian tea buyers accustomed to favorable credit terms now find it difficult to secure the financing needed to pay upfront, according to Ian Gibbs, chairman since 2016 of the International Tea Committee (ITC). In 2020 Russia imported 142,000 metric tons of tea, valued at $412 million — a total likely to decline in 2022. Gibbs predicts a dip – but not a big drop in the volume of tea shipped to the world’s third most valuable tea market. 

    Dan Bolton: Ian, will you put into perspective the impact of the invasion of Ukraine? How will a prolonged crisis impact the global tea trade?

    Ian Gibbs: Initially, it will be a very worrying time for many producers. It’s going to affect some more than others. Reduced demand in one market will have knock-on effects elsewhere.

    If we look at the main countries from which Russia sources its tea (See chart below, all ITC figures are from 2020), India is likely to be hit the hardest just over 39,000 metric tons or 19% of their exports went to Russia in 2020. Sri Lanka sent 30,000 metric tons to Russia, representing 11% of their total exports.

    On the other hand, Kenya exported 25,000 metric tons to Russia a significant figure for Russia but a total that represents less than 5% of Kenya’s annual exports.

    Vietnam exported 13,000 metric tons to Russia (10% of their total exports). Indonesia exported 8,500 metric tons, a smaller quantity than the other countries I’ve mentioned, but a quantity that represents nearly 19% of Indonesia’s tea exports. So that suggests that Indonesia could be hit quite hard. 

    Tea is regarded as an essential product and along with other foodstuffs should, I understand, be exempt from the sanctions. But producers will still have considerable issues to contend with, such as finance, which currency to use, the ruble’s depreciation, insurance, and shipping. Regardless of what’s being shipped, many shipping lines have stopped shipping to Russia.

    Unlike other occasions when sanctions have been applied, I think that the feeling of the majority of people worldwide at the government level, commercial companies, and as individuals is they want to see these sanctions effective as a result of what they are seeing on the television and the internet. So, it’s going to be quite a challenging task, I think, for exporters.

    Dan Bolton: Will black tea producers concerned over price and settlement of payments* cut production, or will tea previously destined for Russia find its way to other markets?

    Ian:  I don’t think producers will cut production. Tea is exempt from sanctions; probably quite a large quantity will be imported by Russia. 

    However, there will be a hiccough in the short term as the players in the market work out how to deal with the various issues I listed earlier.  There is no doubt these issues are substantial, so the market is likely to be adversely affected for a while. 

    New markets don’t suddenly appear, but I hope that producers (and by this, I mean producing companies backed by their countries’ governments) will use this opportunity to explore new markets, which could be a long-term benefit to everyone. 

    “I think that the trade-in foodstuffs, including tea, should be restored to normal fairly quickly once hostilities end. I don’t believe that in the long term, there will be a major disruption to trade.”

    “I think that the trade in foodstuffs including tea, should be restored to normal fairly quickly once hostilities end. I don’t believe that in the long term, there will be a major disruption to trade.”

    Ian Gibbs

    Dan Bolton: Will this crisis soon pass? Or do you foresee years of sanctions that permanently disrupt the current alignment of the tea supply chain?

    Ian: Everyone wants the whole problem solved very, very quickly. The amount of damage already done in Ukraine means that the effects of this invasion will be felt for a long time.

    It will take time to rebuild Ukraine and for trust to be restored between Ukraine and Russia and all the other parties involved.

    It will be a while before we get back to normal. However, I think that the trade in foodstuffs, including tea, should be restored to normal fairly quickly once hostilities end. I don’t believe that there will be a major disruption to trade in the long term.

    Tea is not alone; other commodities are contending with the same problems.  It’s worth noting all this is happening against a hike in the price of coffee over the last year, which has happened for several reasons, and so there is potential for tea to benefit as people can be expected to switch from coffee to tea. 

    In my view, demand will be there, and I believe the government of Russia will be keen to make sure that people get their tea. It is going to take time to settle down. As far as the tea industry is concerned, I personally believe that it’s a blip it’s going to take time to sort things out, but new opportunities are invariably out there waiting to be explored and we have to find them

    Tea Exported to Russia (2020)

    Total Production (mt)Total ExportsExports to Russia%age1
    China2,986,016      348,81515,3004.39
    Indonesia 126,00045,265 8,50018.78
    Sri Lanka278,493 262,726 30,40011.57
    Source: International Tea Committee courtesy Ian Gibbs
    1 Percentage of tea producing country’s total exports to Russian Federation

    Ian Gibbs was elected Chairman of the International Tea Committee in May 2016.  On leaving school, Ian served 14 years with the British Army.  He joined the tea trade in London in 1990, working with tea brokers Wilson Smithett in the City of London until 2005 when he set up his own company. Ian joined the management board of the ITC in 2009, representing Malawi, and became Vice-Chairman in 2010. Ian graduated in 2017 with a BA (Hons) at the Open University in the UK, majoring in French and International Relations. 

    *SWIFT is a secure protocol used by 11,000 financial institutions to transfer about 70% of interbank funds. Founded in 1973, SWIFT is managed by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. The EU, UK, Canada, UK, and the US barred seven Russian banks as of March 1 and are expected to add more to the list, according to Reuters. SWIFT announced the disconnect is effective March 12. It is only the second time that the world’s central banks agreed to sanction a country’s banking system, writes Forbes.

    Established in 1933, the International Tea Committee (ITC) has provided the tea industry with valuable statistical information for more than 80 years. The ITC is an unbiased, non-profit supported and recognized by many major tea-producing and tea-consuming nations as the official source of timely, accurate, impartial data suited to all statistical requirements. To learn more, visit intea.com

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  • Sri Lanka Responds to Tea Market Turmoil

    This week Tea Biz traveled to Colombo, Sri Lanka to assess the impact of the war in Ukraine on one of the Russian Federation’s most important tea trading partners. Correspondent Dananjaya Silva spoke with veteran exporter Anil Cooke, managing director and CEO of Asia Siyaka Commodities, whose insights offer clarity amid a fast-changing crisis that is disturbing global harmony in tea.

    • Caption: Anil Cooke, managing director and CEO of Asia Siyaka Commodities in Colombo, Sri Lanka

    Hear the interview

    Anil Cooke Explains Sri Lanka’s Response to Tea Market Turmoil

    Sanctions Trigger Halt in Tea Shipments to Russia

    By Dananjaya Silva | PMD Tea

    The Russian Federation faces an unprecedented combination of payment and logistics barriers that are interrupting supply. The combined resolve of governments condemning the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has created uncertainty over prompt clearance of payments. Sanctions that exclude several Russian banks from the SWIFT global payment system and threaten the liquidity of Russia’s Central Bank led to a severe devaluation of the ruble (currently trading for less than 1 cent USD) making tea imports far more costly. That action led MasterCard, American Express, and VISA to suspend transactions at physical locations in Russia or online. Apple Pay and Google Pay systems did the same. Separately the US, EU, Canada, and UK closed their airspace to Russian owned and operated aircraft.

    The collective refusal of the world’s largest container shipping companies to deliver or receive goods poses additional barriers to the movement of tea. Russia annually imports 150,000 metric tons of tea — a total likely to plummet in 2022.

    Correspondent Dananjaya Silva, managing director of PMD Tea in London was in Colombo this week where he spoke with Anil Cooke.

    Dananjaya Silva: Will you discuss the current situation in Ukraine?

    Anil Cooke: It’s critical for Sri Lanka. Last year, Russia imported 27 million kilograms and 29 million kilograms the year before. And Ukraine has been steady at around 4 million kilos each year over the last three years. So that’s approximately 10% of all the tea shipped by Sri Lanka.

    The impact of these two markets is varied in the sense that they buy a whole cross-section of grades from small-leaf, high-growns, to a mix of black leaf orthodox teas. And that could be a definite issue with the depth of demand at the digital auctions, given the uncertainty over trade with these countries. At the moment there’s tea that has already been shipped. Often, the importers operate on a degree of credit, sometimes 30 to 60 days. We are not certain how long these proceeds will take to reach Sri Lanka.

    The other concern is that it looks like shipping and movement of cargo to these markets will be restricted in the immediate short term. We find there are fewer [shipping] lines operating at the moment. So, we’ll have to wait and see.

    Dananjaya: Will you provide some insight on the current price realization? Are you concerned about clearing payments with Russia, given the magnitude of sanctions prevent tea transactions? Do you anticipate workarounds and bartering of commodities?

    Anil: Auction prices are beginning to reflect slackening demand from Russian and Ukrainian buyers.

    The positive aspect is that it’s gradual. Right now, Colombo, Sri Lanka is in the midst of its western quality season. And it’s been pretty dry with production low. So, I don’t see this being felt until a few weeks further downstream, because there is ample demand to take up the available quantities on offer.

    The impact of sanctions on the banking system is also unclear. We are aware that there are yet some banks that have not been prevented from doing business. The impact of SWIFT will be visible later.

    [Editor’s Note: SWIFT is a secure protocol used by 11,000 financial institutions to transfer about 70% of interbank funds. Founded in 1973, SWIFT is managed by the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication. The EU, UK, Canada, UK, and the US barred seven Russian banks as of March 1 and are expected to add more to the list, according to Reuters. SWIFT announced the disconnect is effective March 12. This is only the second time that the world’s central banks agreed to sanction a country’s banking system, writes Forbes.]

    On the face of it, these sanctions could bite and stop the movement of goods, even though in most cases sanctions are not supposed to block the movement of food.

    Dananjaya: Do you see Sri Lanka adopting a bank settlement system in currencies other than US dollars, like that developed with Iran to circumvent sanctions, happening with Russia?

    Anil: The system with Iran was unique. It was in relation to historic debt on previous oil shipments, which is not the case here.

    [Editor’s Note: Air, land, and sea carriers that refused booking to and from Russia confirmed they will deliver tea, coffee, and humanitarian products. In aggregate these carriers represent more than half the volume of goods shipped in containers.]

    Dananjaya: Assuming hostilities and sanctions continue, how will logistics impact sales given the difficulties of delivering cargo? It appears that it will be simpler to ship tea elsewhere. Is there sufficient demand in the rest of the world? Or should the Orthodox producers throttle back?

    Anil: The biggest challenge is movement of tea to Russia. The impact on most black tea markets is significant, particularly the Orthodox producers.

    Sri Lanka, South India, and Vietnam would feel it to a great extent and Kenya to a lesser extent, but from Sri Lanka’s point of view, we can cope without this demand, because I anticipate a drop in production this year.

    Sri Lanka has already been struggling with shortages of fertilizer and even if the rains are on schedule, I believe that the crop loss would balance the reduced demand from Russia and Ukraine. The way things are going, even the movement of cargo to Belarus is likely to be restricted.

    So, this is a transitional phase. I think we will overcome lower demand from Russia because there’s plenty of interest from North Africa and the Middle East.

    We also believe that some of the Russian tea drinkers who moved to coffee may come back to tea due to less discretionary income with the depreciation of the ruble. That’s a hopeful interpretation of how the customer would behave in what is a complex situation.

    I think it’s going to be tough on the world for tea, particularly the most vulnerable people in the value chain, the farmers and the workers and the tea producers. We don’t need this kind of disruption to a situation that is already complex, and as you know, people suffering and not making ends meet at the producer level.

    So, this is a totally unnecessary problem. If one considers the absolute destruction in Ukraine, we don’t know when these people will be able to return to some sort of normalcy. Cessation of violence will not enable them to simply restart their previous lives.

    There will also be a price that the Russian public will have to pay for this because the sanctions will bite deep and remain in place for a long time.

    Invariably it’s the most innocent who are the victims of all of this.

    London-based Dananjaya Silva is the managing director of PMD Tea and a fourth-generation tea man whose family business, P.M. David Silva & Sons date to 1945 during the Plantation Raj in Ceylon’s Dimbula Valley. The company was founded on Brunswick Estate in the fertile Maskeliya Valley as a small independent Tea shop for tea plantation workers to gather, relax and enjoy a quality cup of tea.

    Asia Siyaka Commodities is one of Sri Lanka’s leading market intermediaries in the tea industry. The 16-year-old licensed tea brokerage has built a reputation for innovation and dynamism and has played a pertinent role in transforming Sri Lanka’s tea auction logistics, which is now among the most sophisticated and structured systems in the world. The company trades an average of 40 million kilos of tea annually and ranks consistently among the top four tea brokers both in terms of traded volumes, with a 14% market share, and prices obtained. Services include warehousing and tea factory development. To learn more, visit www.asiasiyaka.com

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