08 October 2014

27 Pest_OSB20_6oct14


It is no small matter. For the first time in history, the biggest marketers of tea in India have taken the first step towards ensuring pesticide-free tea in the future. Now, this calls for a celebration!

Two months and 50,000 supporters later this is what ensued. Hindustan Unilever Limited, Tata Global Beverages and Wagh Bakri, the top three tea brands, which occupy approximately 60 percent of the branded tea market in India, have committed to working with independent experts to guide the pilot studies to find ways to eliminate pesticides at the very plantations of their very producers. The three companies will invest in these research pilots. Girnar, also on the top ten list of tea companies, but relatively much smaller, has given its in principle support to these initiatives, and any such move by the Tea Board of India. That makes it four tea companies embarking on this new journey.

While research is the first step, it will lay a strong foundation for alternatives in the tea cultivation business. Moreover, the research has been defined with the right objective – to eliminate the use of pesticides in tea altogether. So far, the dominant discourse has been to understand ways of reducing pesticides. This is based on the assumption that pesticides are a necessary evil. This assumption has been torn apart by the Non Pesticide Movement, which has been well established in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh albeit in other crops.

The severe limitations of the industrial agriculture school of thought, is that it mainly deals with issues by doling out symptomatic treatments. If it were to be likened to a human being, it would be akin to handing over antibiotics for a cold and fever or a skin disease without understanding the underlying cause, or without looking at the body as a whole.
What Greenpeace has been proposing to the industry is a holistic, ecosystem approach. This approach meant letting go of the pesticides float, the industry has held on to for decades. As long as a single drop, even a single drop of pesticides becomes necessary for survival, the industry will continue to remain on the pesticides treadmill.

This first step is a reflection of willingness to let go off the addiction. To let the soil, and the ecosystem recover and become so robust that it will gain immunity to ward off pests, and have the resilience to withstand the onslaught of diseases and vagaries of changes in climate. That's a huge step.

While the companies take all the necessary steps to make this happen, let's celebrate their willingness to take up this challenge.

Cheers to all those 50,000 of you who have pushed this so far. Here's raising a cup to the success of this endeavour.

RSVP to join the clean chai gathering now!

Shivani Shah is a campaigner with Greenpeace India.