Our National Drink

Tea was first discovered in China and since then, it has travelled through the world. In the beginning, tea plants were quite limited and only royalty and the rich drank tea, not only for its medicinal qualities but also for its taste.

Today, tea is one of the most popular beverages in India and is considered to be one of the healthiest drinks available in the market. But in the current era of industrial agriculture, growing tea is heavily dependent upon the use of chemical pesticides.

Ecological farming is the reality!

Ecological farming is a mantra often thrown by environmentalists and sustainability advocates at the drop of a hat but has anyone wondered how ecological farming works - the economics of it, the research that has to go into it and finally about getting the farmers to implement it?

People often say it’s about going back to basics, but well, I’m not so sure. Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution ensured that, along with introduction of intensive use of agrochemicals, almost all native varieties of crops especially in wheat and rice and other staples were near wiped out. Now we have “high yielding” varieties that have minimal pest resilience. These varieties are probably not going to go out of the agricultural market too soon, so what can be done with these crops which are so difficult to keep alive without agrochemicals? Well, the Non Pesticidal Movement in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana showed the world just how efficiently this can be done with the introduction of a combination of locally produced concoctions which ward pests, biological control measures including bio pesticides and even physical, mechanical control of pests through manual removal and light traps and sticky traps etc.

But there is also the soil, which our Living Soils campaign had earlier proved, which is pretty much “dead”- after decades of chemical usage the soil nutrient levels and the presence of microorganisms which play a crucial role in building soil health are near zero. Go to a field where chemicals are used and try to find an earthworm. I can assure you that your chances are minimal.

Now lets’ look at organic plantations in our country - the biggest grouse people have with organic farming (which is a subset of ecological farming) is that there are huge investments required and also entails huge crop losses in the initial periods. Now the only analogy I can think of is the case of cold turkey when a person abruptly withdraws from an addictive habit. He might give it up for good but the initial period is probably the most excruciating that the person will go through.

Now the point I’m trying to make is, why is there a need for sudden cessation of chemicals? Does it make logical sense, unless of course you want to hasten the certification process and are willing to withstand losses during the conversion waiting period? And also how many of our small farmers could afford such a loss, one year or two years or even three years of low yields? In a country where the pesticides treadmill and climate change related drastic weather patterns have resulted in farmer suicides and crop losses, what is the solution?

Well the solution is again inspired by the NPM movement which has advocated phased reduction and elimination of pesticides and also addition of organic matter. Now during our recent Clean Chai campaign Greenpeace India extensively studied tea plantations across India to gauge the feasibility of a phased chemical elimination. Critics might tell you that Greenpeace doesn’t usually factor in these elements but they probably forget that Greenpeace India is extremely passionate about not just advocating ecological farming but also about protecting farmers and their livelihood.

We did a massive exercise of visiting tea plantations in all major agro climatic zones to ensure that any demand we made of the tea companies to clean up did not adversely impact the farmers, especially the small growers, in any way and that it would only open up new avenues for them. Tea is one of the largest monoculture crops in our country. Monocultures are much more difficult to control and combat on the pest and soil management fronts and we were sure that feasibility in tea, once proven, would pave the way for ecological farming on most other crops since the arguments of the naysayers would be negated by the ecological tea movement. You just cannot dispute facts and that exactly what we sought to do - marry the idea of ecological farming with cold hard facts documented from ecological tea plantations.

Our journey of documentation took us from the hills of Darjeeling to the plains of the Terai and the Dooars and across the Brahmaputra into the Bodo Territorial Administration region, to Meghalaya and finally down south to the Nilgiris. The stories we heard and facts we collected are being shared as case studies, as part of our latest report “Hope Brewing: Kotagiri to Kachibari- Case Studies On Ecological Tea Cultivation”. The case studies are about the men, their passions and the techniques they have adopted which have made the tea they grow truly sustainable - economically viable, production neutral, providing safe working environments to thousands of workers and finally protecting the consumers who consume their tea from the threats posed by pesticides.

We hope these case studies go a long way in removing myths in people’s heads about the feasibility of ecological farming on all fronts. We have also made policy recommendations which were framed based on firsthand accounts of growers, workers and also after interactions with industry experts and also distinguished individuals from the ecological farming movements across India.

Companies React

Four of the leading tea companies, Tata, Unilever, Wagh Bakri & Girnar take the first step towards pesticide-free tea.

1) Unilever
2) Girnar
3) Wagh Bakri
4) Tata

Trouble Brewing in Tea

An investigation carried out by Greenpeace India has found residues of hazardous chemical pesticides in a majority of samples of the main brands of packaged tea produced and consumed in India. Over half of the samples contained pesticides that are ‘unapproved’ for use in tea cultivation or which were present in excess of recommended limits.

download pdf

Crisis with Agriculture

At present, one of the most debated issues globally is the need to ensure food-security and eradicate hunger. But the current model of agriculture which has increased our dependency on chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and genetically engineered crops, has not managed to do that. Neither has it improved livelihoods of small and marginal farmers.

Today, Indian agriculture is facing a grave crisis. The severity of this crisis can be gauged by the current state of Indian farmers.

Case in point: The Green Revolution. We, as a country, should have learnt from Green Revolution, which replaced sound ecological cultivation practices and diverse local crops with a few high yielding varieties, dependent on chemicals, which has been a huge failure. Now, more than ever, we are faced with hunger, that we are trying to get rid of by adopting destructive and polluting agricultural practices that only benefit large corporates. Once again, instead of treating the problem, we are treating the symptom.

Truth About Pesticides

Pesticides are substances meant for attracting, seducing, destroying, or mitigating any pest. Sadly, that isn’t all they do. Studies have shown that chemical pesticides linger in the atmosphere, the ground and in our waterways long after they have been used in a given area. Furthermore, a large amount of sprayed insecticides and herbicides reach areas other than their target areas, because they are sprayed or spread across entire agricultural fields. Runoff can carry pesticides into aquatic environments while wind can carry them to other fields and human settlements, potentially affecting other species.

Pesticides have also been linked to a multitude of diseases and in some extreme cases, remnants of pesticides have also been found in the bloodstream of sufferers of certain types of cancer.

Crisis with Tea

The recent results of our investigation reveal a cocktail of pesticide residue in tea. From a total of 49 branded and packaged teas sampled, a whopping 59% of them contain a cocktail of more than 10 different pesticides, including one sample, which contained residues of 20 different pesticides.

Moreover, these results expose use of banned, illegal and unapproved pesticides. Amongst them are toxic pesticides including DDT, Endosulfan and Monocrotophos.

68% of the 34 pesticides detected in this study are currently not even registered for use on tea by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC). In fact, the levels of many of the pesticides detected exceed the EU-MRL, raising serious questions about the suitability of these tea products for export to European and other markets.

This is yet another symptom of a sick industrial agriculture system which fails to deliver healthy food to people. Indian tea is a victim of agriculture’s pesticide addiction. Click here to read the full report

Cocktail Of Pesticides In Tea

Over the years, a number of studies have used experimental methods to show that a cocktail of pesticides can disrupt gene expression in some organisms. In addition, there is some emerging evidence that pesticide exposure may be associated with reproductive abnormalities, immune suppression, cancer and hormone disruption in humans, presumably as a result of changes in basic metabolic function.

The tea samples tested for this investigation cover eight of the top 11 companies that dominate the branded tea market in India. These include well-known international and national brands such as Hindustan Unilever Limited, Tata Global Beverages Limited, Wagh Bakri Tea, Goodricke Tea, Twinings, Golden Tips, Kho-Cha and Girnar.

External Links On Pesticides
Links On Pesticides New/Recent Studies/Reports

New Report demands that government act against main culprit in Bihar MDM tragedy

(Related news: On 1st anniversary of Bihar midday meal tragedy, new report warns of future mishaps

EFSA assesses potential link between two neonicotinoids and developmental neurotoxicity

(Related news:

Clear differences between organic and non-organic food, study finds

Solutions/Way Forward Videos/Documentaries

Videos/Documentaries Satyamev Jayate - Toxic Food - Poison On Our Plate?

A Pestering Journey (2010) – Punjab & Kasaragod

Mere Desh Ki Dharti (2006, 60 mts, on Punjab & Pesticides)

Slow Poisoning of India (2004)

Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

Punjab Vs. Pesticides

Toxic Tears (Trailer) – about Punjab & Green Revolution

Highway to Hell (2005) – on pesticides situation & alternatives

End of The Road For Endosulfan

Part 1 :

Part 2 :

Part 3 :

God’s Own Country (trailer) – on endosulfan impacts

Related links

On CMSA programme (large scale non-pesticidal management) in Andhra Pradesh:

World Bank film, 2010 - 8.44 mts

Rural Development Department, Andhra Pradesh, 2008 – 5.14 mts

Kranthi Patham or Revolutionary Path, CSA, 2008 – 22.19 mts

The Future of Food

Case Studies

Click below to read about people whose lives have been directly affected by rampant use of pesticides in agriculture.

1. The Long Wait

2. A Paradise for the dying

3. How it all began

What Is Non Pesticide Management?

Indian agriculture is on a pesticide treadmill where the norm is that one cannot save crops without pesticides. But a new thinking based on an ecological approach has swept Andhra Pradesh and has done away with synthetic chemical pesticides. This is Non Pesticide Management (NPM).

NPM works on the principle of understanding pests and utilising locally available and low cost inputs. NPM understands the life cycle of insects and using simple options like light traps, trap crops, pheromone traps and using age old therapies like neem extracts and the extracts of cow dung and cow urine. Definitely less costly than your chemical pesticides, but most importantly not toxic to human health and the environment and therefore, more sustainable.

NPM is ready to be scaled up and can be applied to other crops. It has rapidly gained popularity as 300,000 farmers in Andhra Pradesh alone have adopted this in just four years. The NPM model has shown that ecological approaches can be economically and ecologically viable.

Live Example Of Non Pesticide Management

In 1998, members of SECURE (Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment), a non-governmental organisation started talking to the farmers in Punukula, a village of approximately 900 inhabitants in Andhra Pradesh, about using NPM methods for their cotton.

The farmers were sceptical at first. Could pests really be controlled without pesticides? But the following year, after persistent promotion of NPM by SECURE, one farmer, Margam Mutthaiah, an influential village elder in Punukula, gave it a try. Margam’s results with NPM farming were so good that twenty other farmers decided to try NPM the following year.

The result: The crop yield of the twenty NPM farmers was as good as the crop yield of farmers using insecticides, and they achieved it without spending any money on insecticides.

By 2008, 340,000 farmers in 3,170 villages were using NPM on nearly a million acres of cropland, not only for cotton but also for grain and vegetable crops.

What You Can Do

Tell your friends and spread the message to #CleanChai. Want to do more? Sign the petition to Clean Chai Now! Sign in

About Bindu Vaz

Bindu Vaz is a mother who is concerned about the health and well-being of her young daughter. She does not wish to raise her daughter in a world where pesticides become a norm and health safety is thrown out the window. This is one the many reasons why she decided to join Greenpeace India’s fight to clean up tea. Personally, this is her way of contributing to the change she seeks.


What's New

Press Releases

  1. Non pesticide management is the future of tea cultivation: Greenpeace
  2. Hope Brewing - Kotagiri to Kachibari Case Studies on Ecological Tea Cultivation
  3. Greenpeace stands vindicated as tea industry leaders tread Non-Pesticide Management (NPM) path:
  4. Tea industry divided on the issue of pesticides
  5. Greenpeace calls on the industry to save Indian tea from pesticides
  6. Tea companies commit to Non-Pesticide Management in tea; Unilever and Girnar lead the way
  7. Tea Board’s Plant Protection Code is inadequate: Greenpeace India:

Feature Stories

  1. The Sweet Taste Of Victory:
  2. Great victory requires great risk


  1. Ecological farming is the reality!
  3. Thanks to you, Wagh Bakri rises to #CleanChai:
  4. TATA clean up my cup!
  5. Why ideologies, ideas and sectors need to reinvent themselves!
  6. Ek Cup Chai – Sans Pesticides Please!
  7. Behind the scenes: Occupy billboard
  8. Pesticide-free farming is the future
  9. The Making of an Activist!
  10. Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places!
  11. Clean up my Sulaimani!
  12. Journey that led to the pesticides campaign
  13. Growing organic teas in India, a tea estate visit:
  14. Pushing the limits is what I do!
Companies React
Two of the leading tea companies, Unilever & Girnar take the first step towards pesticide-free tea. To read their statements, please click on the links below:

1) Unilever
2) Girnar
3) Wagh Bakri

Tata, India’s biggest tea company has also released a statement detailing their intention to reduce pesticides used in tea production. However, reducing pesticides is not the answer. Only moving to a holistic ecosystem based approach will eliminate pesticides.


The endosulfan controversy first began in the late 1990s. In Kasargod, Kerala, rumours emerged that the aerial spraying of endosulfan on cashew plantations was causing abnormal cases of cancer, skin disease, congenital deformities, sterility and other illnesses. As time passed, local activist groups grew increasingly convinced that they were being caused by a very old off-patent pesticide of the organochlorine class, to which the notorious DDT belongs. By 2001, the issue became big enough for the Kerala government to ban endosulfan.


In the book Silent Spring, author Rachel Carson attributed the overall rise in US cancer rates between 1940 and 1960 to the carcinogenic effects of DDT. She predicted that DDT and other pesticides would spark a cancer epidemic that would wipe out ‘practically 100 per cent’ of the human population within a single generation. As Carson saw it, a race of super-insects, resistant to the effects of pesticides, would infest the crops grown on American farms. Desperate farmers, she said, would respond to these infestations by using much greater quantities of DDT. In this way, Carson explained, the pesticide would eventually poison the entire food chain, killing off, in sequence, bugs, worms, birds, fish, and finally mankind. DDT is now classified as a persistent organic pollutant (POP) as it accumulates in fatty tissues, and can travel long distances in the upper atmosphere. The presence of DDT in 67% of the tea samples in the current study is intriguing since it is no longer registered for use in agriculture in India and was banned in such applications as long ago as 1989.


Found in 27 samples of tea in the current investigation, Monocrotophos, a WHO Class Ib pesticide, has been registered in India by the CIBRC, but has not been permitted for use on tea. It also happens to be the same toxic pesticide, which claimed the lives of 23 school children in Bihar.

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