Pesticide Documentation in Tea estates © Vivek M. / Greenpeace

Ever have a moment when you feel like something extraordinary just happened, a small step that might start something really big?

Last Monday I had one of those moments. I read an announcement by the makers of Tetley tea in India (a company called Tata Global Beverages - TGB) that they were willing to join hands with other global tea brands – such as Lipton – and take the tea sector on a journey towards ecological tea growing. And they are not just going for just 'slightly less hazardous pesticides' (the so-called Integrated pest management approach), they are aiming for the BIG SHIFT – towards completely changing their whole tea growing system.

In their own words TGB's initiative will "encompass promoting behavioural changes in tea producers towards rejuvenation of eco-system including soil health, crop protection, bio-diversity etc. TGB will work with Tea Board, tea industry and independent expert to evaluate the findings and develop an appropriate road map."

Just over a month ago Greenpeace India released a report highlighting how tea grown and sold in India (including global brands such as Lipton, Tetley and Twinings), were contaminated with mixtures of multiple pesticides. Many of these pesticides are classified as highly or moderately hazardous by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Tata's statement is a clear recognition that ecological pest control practices are the way to go. But why is this step from Tata so big, you might ask? After all, Unilever has already agreed to start the same journey..?

Well, its very simple. Tata Global Beverages, and the owner of the Lipton brand, Hindustan Unilever are together estimated to hold more than half the total Indian tea market – so they can really make things happen, fast! What's more, the Tata group not only packs a huge commercial punch (read: annual turnover of 1.5 billion USD), its beverages company, TGB is in fact the second largest tea company in the world, with 65% of its revenue from international markets. So, by collaborating and sharing the know-how from their ecological tea field trials Tata and Unilever could make a massive difference to the cultivation of tea overall.

In short, this means that Tata and Unilever, and a jointly supported roadmap for ecological tea in India, has the potential to set the sector on the fast track towards a new global standard whereby every single teabag sold in markets all around the world – from Russia (yup – they drink a lot of tea too) to Iran to Pakistan – not to mention UK, Canada and the US – could be ecological and pesticide free by default.  And, as Tata hinted at in its commitment, what can be done with tea could well be done in other crops too, pointing to a future where all our food can be grown ecologically... and then we're talking! Here's to you Tata!

Melissa Shinn is a senior ecological farming campaigner at Greenpeace International