When can you certify tea organic?

Kanishka Banerjee

The concept of organic farming in tea production has not yet been that widespread as other agricultural farming. However, in the last decade, the trend is getting popular in the tea industry, primarily driven by the consumer demand. When a tea is labeled "certified organic", it has met the conditions by at least one of the regulatory agencies with established guidelines for organic food production. Some planters, who have faced the problem of soil exhaustion, have realized that it is in their own interest to switch to organic production to restore the fertility of their land and to avoid the plantation to a slow decline in terms of yield and quality. Another critical point is that organic certification requires a financial commitment since it is more labor intensive, which translates to increased cost in return for lower yields. The fertilizers used for organic cultivation are mostly a form of compost made either by vegetable matter or animal manure. One method that I saw very popular in the Nilgiris in Southern India is the residue from the castor seed after the oil is extracted. Very rich in nutrients, it helps to improve the soil and its capacity to retain water. Vermiculture, the introduction of earthworms into the soil, is another common method used in Asia. The earthworms produce a natural fertilizing agent, enriching the soil by releasing nutritious mineral into it through their casts. This bio-organic method also helps to improve the drainage and the aeration of the soil thus restoring its balance. Switching a plot to organic is not always easy. Airborne pesticides sprayed on a neighboring plantation may contaminate the organic farming. One of the solutions adopted by many growers is to surround the plantation by rare tree species to form a screen against the airborne pesticides. That’s one of the reasons you might find some unusual trees surrounding tea estates.  

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