Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sustainable, organic, fair trade tea

I am quite the groupie of Nigel Melican of Teacraft Ltd - his knowledge and experience in the industry is vast and I am always interested in what he has to say. So, you can imagine how rapt I was to discover that Cinnabar of Gongfu Girl had interviewed Nigel at last year's World Tea Expo and shared the interview on Cha Dao.

If you care about issues of sustainability, organic farming and fair trade - in relation to tea in particular of course, but I think there is much in this interview that applies to agriculture and trade in general - then you should read this. The following excerpt is one I found particularly thought provoking:

NM: I'll give you an example of the dilemma that you might get into. I was working with a new tea grower in Hawaii -- not one of the small guys that we've seen at the Expo, but someone who wanted to do it on a hundred-acre scale, 200-acre scale. He wanted to be organic, said the production must be organic. He was a berry farmer on the mainland, and he always had an organic farm, and he wanted to have an organic tea farm. So we started off and sourced his tea and his raw materials from Africa and got it planted, and his soil was not acid enough, which is unusual for Hawaii, but this was an old sugar-cane plantation and they'd put down a lot of chalk, to benefit the sugar cane. This was 20 years ago, but it was still there. The normal way that you'd acidify soil for tea is to put sulfur on it. Sulfur is recognized by the organic people; they're happy with it. So he goes off to his supplier and when he sees the sulfur that he's offered, he says, "where does it come from?" and they say it's a by-product of the petrochemical industry, and he throws his hands up in horror! So we look and see what else we can get. It's possible to get sulfur which is rock sulfur, mined sulfur. The dilemma is, would you rape the countryside with big holes, ripping out rock sulfur, or would you use a by-product of the petrochemical industry that has to go somewhere, and is at least greening the petrochemical industry at least a little bit?

C: Why would the organic regulations say that you couldn't use petro-chemical by-products?

NM: the regulations don't say that you shouldn't, but they would prefer that you use the natural sulfur.

C: "Organic" meaning that you take it from the earth regardless of consequences? That makes no sense.

NM: No it doesn't make a lot of sense. That's why I say that sustainability and organic should be done with some degree of realism.

The interview is relatively lengthy, so it's been divided into three parts. Definitely worth every minute of your reading time and worth coming back to. Check it out here!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for adding this I will go and read the whole interview in next time when I have a few more minutes to read it. How about you? Do you go for organic tea(products)? I do, and I am glad that the tea merchants I go and get my tea from it selling more and more organic tea.


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