Booker Tate Award for Small Businesses
The Winner: CETCA Te Sangay
When Inchcape sold its overseas plantations in 1990-2, one proved less attractive to buyers. It was Sangay, on the wrong side of a 200-yard-wide river in Ecuador across which its tea has to be carried in trolleys along a cable. Five Inchcape executives decided to take Sangay on.
It now produces over l,000 tonnes of tea a year, mainly exported to the United States, Europe and Latin America. It generates a turnover of about £1 million in an area without much income.
Colin Armstrong, who was responsible for Inchcape's tea plantations world wide, is now Sangay's chairman. His four partners are the Earl of Inchcape who chairs a tea-marketing and packaging company; Jim Thomas, who ran tea estates in India; Martin Wollocombe, Inchcape's manager in Ecuador and Peter Wilson, now managing director, who joined Inchcape when it took over Sangay from Mitchell Cotts in 1984.
A stretch of Ecuador, 3,000 feet up between the Andes and the Amazon jungle, is similar to Kenya, which is why Mitchell Cotts, looking for a new place to grow tea and pyrethrum, chose it. Tea will grow there all the year: there is no close season.
The firm left pyrethrum-growing to smallholders but in 1962 set up the tea estate which it named after a volcano 50 miles away. The Sangay estate was in a scarcely inhabited area over 30 miles from the nearest village. Indians came down from the Andes to take the estate jobs. They also set up smallholdings and built a town called Palora.
Sangay employs a doctor, with a daily clinic. It has equipped two local schools for sports, and built a chapel.
When Inchcape took over, it rehabilitated Sangay, re-equipping its factory to produce CTC (crush,tear and curl) tea, popular for teabags. Colin Armstrong and his colleagues are extending the estate to 550 hectares, which will fully employ the factory.
They sell direct to packers, such as Liptons in the United States. They also do some packing themselves, selling in Ecuador and neighbouring countries under the Horniman and Sangay brand names.
Apart from Peter Wilson, the 100 people who work for Sangay are Ecuadorian: Sangay gives training in management and technical skills. In addition, local groups which take on contracts to pick the tea employ up to 200 people mainly women. Sangay is criss-crossed with streams along which 40,000 trees have been planted.
From the estate, the tea travels by lorry to the river Pastaza. Once across, the tea sacks are loaded in more lorries and carried over the Andes to the port of Guayaquil. Colin Armstrong hopes that road improvements will soon make it possible to get containers to the Pastaza and simplify the transport.
Sangay is also studying different tea bushes. No one knows how long tea will continue to crop in Ecuadorian conditions. In Assam it lasts 50 years or more.
CETCA, PO Box 17088409, Quito,Ecuador