April 22, 2020

Learning About Tea Origin with the Ethical Tea Partnership of Africa

An interview with Lavazza Global Ambassador Sean DevlinLavazza Global Ambassador Program

Each year we send a group of associates to support our sustainability efforts as part of our Lavazza Global Ambassadors program. This program focuses on the environmental as well as social and financial aspects of sustainability in the coffee production ecosystem. In 2019, our Ambassadors visited Rwanda with the Ethical Tea Partnership of Africa.

To learn more about the trip, we interviewed Sean Devlin, Supplier Quality Technologist and Lavazza Global Ambassador.

What inspired you to go on the trip to Rwanda?

The inspiration to apply came from a couple different sources:
My manager, Elena, was an ambassador the previous year and she could not speak any more highly of her experience. From the people of Rwanda and their hospitality, the vast range of activities that Richard put together for the week to get the most scene of the culture and the business, and the gratification you get from knowing the impact you made to the tea industry in Rwanda. After hearing this it was an easy decision to apply.

The second reason for applying to increase my knowledge of tea at origin level which is beneficial to my job function. Part of my role is conducting risk assessments for all our ingredients and agricultural commodities. Being about to go to Rwanda where we buy a portion of our tea was going to give me great insight on how tea is harvested, handled, manufactured, and transported at the origin level.

How would you describe the community you visited in Rwanda in 3 words?

Unified – You could see and feel the togetherness of the country.
Hopeful – Hopeful for a better future of the country. Hopeful for more prosperity. Hopeful for growth in their agricultural commodities.
Proud – Proud to provide for their families. Proud to grow the business that they have dedicated so much time and effort.

Did you have a favorite day during the trip?

Its hard to pick my favorite day of the trip as they were all so unique, but I would say the Wednesday that we were there will stick with me forever. The highlight was visiting a tea farmer’s family at their home. The family was given a cow during the cow giving ceremony the previous year. When we got to the house the wife immediately started crying and hugging all of us because she was still so appreciative, even a year later, to have been given a cow. Cow’s provide nutrients to the family along with the manure providing excellent fertilizer to harvest a great yield for their tea bushes. The cow even birthed a calf which will soon be given to another family! The husband and wife let us enter their home and we sat down for about an hour as they told us their stories and what the cow has meant to them.

What was your biggest takeaway from this experience?

My biggest takeaway from the trip is how united both the country is, as well as the tea community within Rwanda. The country experienced such devastating tragedy in 1994 during the 100 days of genocide. This was only 25 years ago, still very fresh in the minds of the Rwandan people. The people have made it a point to care and protect one another. It was visible when we visited the genocide memorial but also within the different communities we visited throughout the week.

Within the tea community they are united in one voice. From the head of the tea cooperative to the tea farmers they spoke the same tea language. Rarely do you see in business the management level and the employee level seeing eye to eye. This was evident when meeting with the different groups and hierarchy within the tea industry such as when we asked what was needed most to improve the export of tea within Rwanda both management and the farmers said “more tea seedlings to expand the farms”.


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