Movement in the tea sector towards zero pesticides signals the rise of the under dog
So now, is asking safe pesticide free tea for the consumers, a threat to national security?
Features Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 05:30
By Neha Saigal It has been a few months that a ridiculous Intelligence Bureau (IB) report was leaked, accusing a few NGOs of being responsible for reducing the GDP of India by about 2-3%. One of the NGOs that stood out in this factually incorrect report was Greenpeace. The leaked IB report, which neither the Indian government, nor the IB have authenticated, attempted to tarnish the credibility of an organisation that is known globally for its environmental activism and the ability to challenge the biggest and most powerful exploiters, of environment and livelihoods associated with it. Greenpeace has come out victorious many a times against these exploiters beating all odds and almost re-living the legend of David and Goliath each time, proving that an underdog can be a winner. So was this leaked IB report successful in intimidating this under-dog and tarnishing its credibility?Greenpeace continued with its campaigns, garnered even more support from public, political leaders, celebrities and the civil society. Greenpeace√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs most recent public campaign on pesticide residues in tea is again an attempt at raising its voice to ensure safe food for the people of this country.¬† Greenpeace undertook a scientific study and tested 49 samples of branded tea sold in India, for 350 pesticides at an independent accredited laboratory. The samples came back with concerning results, where 94% of the samples contained residues of atleast one pesticides and more than half of the samples had a cocktail of pesticides, which means contained 10 or more pesticide residues. Worse yet, 68% of the samples tested, contained pesticides unapproved for cultivation in tea. The study concluded that Indian tea cultivation is stuck in a pesticide treadmill and that came as no surprise as India√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs agriculture is addicted to chemicals ever since the Green Revolution. These results are captured in Greenpeace√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs report √Ę‚ā¨ŇďTrouble Brewing√Ę‚ā¨¬Ě which brings to light yet another crop victimised by the pesticide menace. Tea is yet another source for these toxins to enter the human body through our diet, accumulating and potentially exposing us to long term health impacts. Tea gardens are yet another scene of crime where direct exposure of pesticides on tea workers has dire and more obvious consequences. Tea is very important for the Indian economy as it contributes to foreign exchange and it provides employment to over a million people but above all chai is synonymous with India and Indians. One can easily say that tea is one of our national drinks or rather the national drink, which is hugely consumed in our country across all ages, regions and gender and is part of our culture. Something so prevalent in the Indian lifestyle should be associated with pride rather than toxic chemicals. Recently even the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Smt Nirmala Sitharaman stated that reports of pesticide residues in tea worry her as this is one of our national drinks and something needs to be done about it. Everyone apart from the chemical industry has acknowledged the issue and raised concerns. Even the tea companies and the tea board have taken cognizance of the menace. Some of the tea companies have even publicly announced their commitment to phase out pesticides from tea, no wonder the chemical industry is feeling the brunt.¬† Then arises the question of who needs to save Indian tea,with several stakeholders involved, someone needs to lead the process.The tea companies can play a huge role in facilitating the change, to gradually move Indian tea towards zero pesticides. This is the responsibility they owe to their consumers.¬† Greenpeace√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs engagement with these companies to create a roadmap which will phase out pesticides in the future has received positive nods from Unilever and Girnar and acknowledgement from others. Unilever and Girnar have released statements to show their commitment to the same with the first concrete step in this process being pilots. They are willing to invest and support in ecological approaches like Non Pesticide Management along with their producers and Tea Board to ensure safety from crop to cup. This is a paradigm shift from the conventional approach of just reduction of chemicals.¬† The move by these companies is also challenging the conventional thinking that pesticides are a necessary evil and Indian agriculture will be doomed without these chemicals. While this is the first time for tea cultivation, India has witnessed a similar movement of Non Pesticide Management in Andhra Pradesh which has been very beneficial to producers and helped improve farmer livelihoods by reducing the cost of cultivation. So now, is asking safe pesticide free tea for the consumers, a threat to national security?The tea companies as well as the Tea Board, find value in engaging with Greenpeace and listening to our vision for agriculture and also implementing it to some extent.¬† While Greenpeace waits to hear from the other tea companies to commit, to gradually phasing out pesticides, the Government of India needs to appreciate the role of organisations and their alternative views to development as that will lead to a healthier economy opposed to the one that is dominated by pro-corporate agenda. Between the Governments and the corporates are the people of this country who deserve a healthier future and the reason today tea companies are listening and acting on Greenpeace√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘs recommendations is for this very vision for their consumers. Neha Saigal is a senior campiagner with Greenpeace India¬†Follow @NehaSaigal24