Vietnam: Tea in Women’s Hands
Though many women participate in tea harvesting activities, they are not as present in the tasks involved in tea manufacture, most of which are traditionally and still carried out by men. There are exceptions, however. In Vietnam’s Thai Nguyen region, it is mostly women taking care of tea production, from the first cultivation to the final sales.
According to Ms. Hiep, the inspiring 67-year-old manager of the Tan Huong Cooperative, the dominant role women play in her company reflects the reality throughout Vietnam, where women occupy eighty percent of all jobs in the tea domain. Amongst this small cooperative’s thirty-seven employees, only five are men. Sharing all of the tasks and equipment, men and women jointly produce a green tea comprised of large twisted leaves intended for the domestic market.
Despite the quality of the teas produced in Thai Nguyen, Vietnam’s most renowned tea region, the market is quite saturated. Some growers limit their production to avoid a surplus. In seeking to develop Vietnam’s primarily domestically-oriented tea market, some artisans have attempted to produce small-leaf teas of a higher quality; sadly, due to a lack of regular buyers, they are usually forced to return to their regular production.
This market reality, common to many tea regions, has forced some growers to develop new lines of traditional and everyday teas. Over the last few years, the Tan Huong Cooperative has been making Wulong tea in an attempt to diversify their production. On international markets, Wulong can sell for up to four times the price of their regular green tea and demand is on the rise. Should the cooperative succeed in introducing this new tea to the international market, it will certainly have a great positive impact.
With this in mind, in 1997, the women from Tan Huong began to plant the cultivars used to produce Wulongs. Without the expertise or equipment required to transform these leaves, however, they have not yet managed to develop a satisfactory product. To address this problem, the cooperative has recently joined ranks with Mr. Xu, a Taiwanese specialist, to learn more about Wulong transformation processes and the complexity of parameters that must be respected to create a quality tea.
According to Ms. Hiep, their recent progress has been very encouraging, but, before entering the foreign market, the cooperative will have to resolve many other organizational challenges regarding transportation, financial transactions, and quality control. With Mr. Xu’s help, the members’ perseverance, and the good fortune of having the support of the next generation ready to join them, the future looks bright for the Tan Huong Cooperative.
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