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Turning Tea Growers into Tea Drinkers

Tea -- it is one of the world's oldest prepared beverages, dating back thousands of years to southern China. Since humans first began consuming it, tea has been used as currency, as medicine and, more commonly, as a daily necessity for millions of people around the world.

But it is still primarily consumed by people far away from where it is actually grown. Despite hundreds years spent cultivating tea in Asia and Africa, people there do not drink it nearly as much as Europeans.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is trying to change that. Kaison Chang of FOA explains that tea-producing nations, particularly in Africa, China and India, drink only about one-tenth the level of nations like the U.K.

According to Chang, governments of tea producing nations have traditionally put the emphasis on stimulating exports, rather than encouraging local consumption. But, he added, that is not because the general public does not like to drink tea.

"What we've tried to encourage is to improve the quality of tea that's going to the local consumers. Also there has been some very good research results to support the health benefits of tea consumption," said Chang. "And this could be used quite more aggressively in promoting tea consumption in these countries."

And in the last five years, he added, the trend has been quite encouraging.

"Sri Lanka, for example, has really taken off in a per capita consumption of tea. And similarly with China and India."

Another incentive is purely micro-economic, said Chang. The more people who drink tea in country, the more revenue there is for pay for the import needs of developing nations.

"For example Kenya, the export earnings for tea more than covers the food import bill of Kenya. I think it's up to about 130 percent of Kenya's food import bill level," Chang said.

And turning tea producers into tea lovers can help these very same countries boost their local agricultural endeavors, such as planting staple crops, like rice, to feed their own people.