29 September 2014

Pesticide Documentation in Tea estates © Vivek M. / Greenpeace


It was only last week that we had a meeting with the giants in the corporate world, the Tatas. We were meeting their team in Bangalore about our public campaign on clean chai. It had been over forty five days since our brave activists climbed seven billboards in Mumbai to send a strong message to all tea companies that Indians want their tea pesticide-free. After all we are in my opinion, the chai capital of the world; chai is synonymous with India and Indians.

I was not sure what to expect of this meeting with Tata Global Beverages (TGB), only a week ago we had focused our public campaign on Tata as they are the market leader in the tea sector and given the fact that the other two leaders, Unilever and Wagh Bakri had given their commitment to look at Non Pesticide Management in tea cultivation. While there was uncertainty, there was also a feeling of hope and confidence, as we were walking into that meeting with the support of more than 40,000 people, representing every chai drinker in the country.
The TGB team in Bangalore gave us a presentation of their vision for the tea sector and I must say that it was heartening to see one of the leaders in the industry talk about their vision to promote ecological agriculture and Non Pesticide Management in tea. The first thing that came to mind was the huge movement this company had made from our meetings with them since last December. The conversations then were mostly around reducing pesticides and abiding by an approach which was reductionist in nature, but now in this recent meeting, it seemed like the approach of TGBL moved to a holistic one based on rejuvenating the ecosystem.

We left the meeting with a sense of satisfaction and also sure that TGB's vision for tea was very similar to what we had recommended. But we were still eager to see what this intent looks like when it is formalised on paper.

A day after our meeting, TGB released the commitment to their consumers, in a statement that spoke about their vision towards ecological agriculture and conducting research on Non Pesticide Management (NPM) which will help the tea industry create a road-map towards eliminating chemical pesticides. This was a magical moment as it proved once again that no matter how small you are, you can bring about a large change that will benefit future generations. This commitment by Tata was that change that people power was able to achieve.

It is not often that you witness a company that has stake in the chemicals business; promote a vision without pesticides and one that focuses on soil health and biodiversity. But TGBL is one such trend-setter and now in the truest sense taking steps towards their sustainable vision which is, "beverages which taste good, are good for you, good for others and good for the planet."

I would also like to believe that in a sense Greenpeace's campaign to take the tea sector on a journey towards ecological agriculture has just begun with the recent commitment by the Tatas. We will now have to ensure that the companies keep up to their promises to the consumers and the Government supports them in this vision of eliminating pesticides.

The precedent set by the tea sector in India, which now in a very big way is going to invest in Non Pesticide Management and the support that people have shown towards a pesticide-free future should only be a signal that the agriculture model in this country is in dire need of a paradigm shift.

Neha Saigal is a Senior Campaigner with Greenpeace India.