Fairtrade invited 100% Fairtrade business, Scarborough Fair to share their experiences on a recent trip to visit some of their tea producers. Over to Nigel, from Scarborough Fair...
Recently we decided it was time for a revisit to our growers and pluckers deep in "up country" Sri Lanka and thought I would share some stories with you.
After what is always an interesting, yet somewhat frightening experience driving the back roads of the beautiful island of Sri Lanka we found ourselves in the mist and once again immersed into the world of Tea. This trip was taken specifically to meet with and gain a better appreciation of the benefits flowing back to our tea pluckers and their families as a result of your purchasing of our Scarborough Fair Fairtrade teas.
Firstly an overview of the very Special Tea Plantation that is Indulgashinna.
Indulgashinna is a high grown 6000 ft Bio Dynamic tea plantation deep in the highlands of Bandarawela Sri Lanka. Having achieved Organic status in 1987 they set out to become a certified Biodynamic plantation, this was achieved by 1998. The Biodynamic system was compiled by Rudolph Stiener and as a system is highly regulated and controlled with constant strict auditing systems. It involves a totally holistic approach to farming and is based around lunar and natural cycles. Good information can be found online and makes for fascinating reading, (For example the recognized best planting time is when the moon is directly opposite Saturn).
Natural fertilizer is produced on the Plantation, over a 6 month period by the composting of cattle dung and natural green materials (all sourced from the plantation). This mix is then placed into Vermaculture tanks where over time thousands of worms shed their casts, these along with other natural ingredients including eggshell powders, certain flowers (packed into dried stags bladders from New Zealand and then crushed) and a special mixture produced from the packing of cow dung into a cows horns and buried for 6 months allowing for the absorption of the horns’ calcium richness. This over time rots down giving a rich juice ( Vermiwash ) approx 12000Lt per year and a rich compost mix ( Vermicast ) approx 1200Kg per year which is hand applied by use of Silver Oak branches around the plantation.
When originally purchased Indulgashinna was in a very poor and neglected condition producing very, very low yields. It was noted that back then, there were only six bird species in residence. Now due to the creation of a completely non-toxic environment this number has increased to at least 36. Spending time in this environment one can understand why. Due to the strict natural production methods this Bio dynamic plantation yields approximately 25Kg of tea leaf per plucker per day as opposed to 50Kg plus in a conventional Plantation.
Interestingly the chief advisor for Indulgasinna is Dr Peter Proctor, a New Zealander who visits the Plantation yearly.
The Indulgashinna slopes covered in the all too familiar mists which help to create the perfect environment for our green tea production. As can be seen here this area is perched high in the Sri Lanka highlands and although generally accessible can have major access problems during the rainy seasons.
Various charts and instructions that are used to follow the strict guidelines of Biodynamic farming in the plantation offices at Indulgashinna.
"Biodynamic agriculture is a method of organic farming that emphasizes the holistic development and interrelationships of the soil, plants and animals as a self-sustaining system. Biodynamic farming has much in common with other organic approaches, such as emphasizing the use of manures and composts and excluding of the use of artificial chemicals on soil and plants" Wikipedia
Meet one of our tea pluckers
Mrs Vijayalaksmi (below) is a very proud woman who is descended from a very long line of Sri Lankan tea pluckers. For generations her family has walked the steep hill country of Sri Lanka surviving on the low subsistence wages of the Tea plantation worker. Today, she explains, she is the first of her lineage to be able to see a bright future for her children away from the plantations.
A major contributor for her optimism is the premiums paid out by the Fairtrade system. In contrast to past generations, 38 year old Mrs Vijayalaksmi’s 6 children have a bright future in front of them and a potential to earn higher wages outside of the tea industry. This will allow them to send extra monies back home, which can be spent on bettering the extended families day to day life including home renovations , education opportunities and supporting elderly relatives.
In the recent past children of plantation workers had one future and that was to follow in their parents’ footsteps, uneducated and as tea pluckers. This continuum is now undergoing change. Of her six children, one is married and lives off plantation, one is working in Colombo and four are studying in the State School and looking to a brighter future with far wider opportunities than were previously considered. The Fairtrade premiums returned to the families help to make it possible for her children to attend a state school. Every December she receives an extra payment of 750 rupees, this allows for her to pay for their necessary school books. This was just one of the small but previously insurmountable hurdles that previously restricted advancement.
Mrs Vijayalaksmi’s tells me that by being a part of the Fairtrade system and reaping the rewards and benefits that the payment of Fairtrade premiums bring, her six children are now in a position to achieve a higher education. This will allow them to break away from the plantation and to work outside of the tea Industry thus building a brighter future for themselves and for the generations to follow.
Mrs Vijayalaksmi had a final word for New Zealand
"We are the product of the good quality of our tea, Bio grown so no chemicals. New Zealand people should have no worries drinking our tea and we thank you for buying our teas and providing the premium to better our families lives"
In our world these are small things, but believe me when I tell you that the benefits the Fairtrade payments have made, makes massive differences to the present and future wellbeing of these workers and their families. I have found in my travels that given a chance people of all races once given opportunities grab them with both hands and never look back.
My colleague and travel companion, Nick and myself spent several days discussing Fairtrade and visiting workers homes, schools and work places. This has reinforced our commitment to work hard to bring to our markets the fantastic teas that are the result of their hard work and to encourage you to continue to purchase for your home and office. This ensures we continue to generate the premiums that are helping to make major differences to their own and their children’s future.