How do we perceive a culture of sustainability?

Prof. Dr. Carola Strassner, endowed Professor of Sustainable Nutrition at the Münster University of Applied Sciences, writes in the AoeL 2012 Special Issue on the concept of sustainability, discussing how the needs of the present should not risk the needs of future generations. Many now refer to a mantra of three elements, or pillars, of sustainability: ecology, economy and social issues.

The daily practice of sustainability in China

Maximising the development of these three pillars is indeed a positive guideline to the development and safety of the entire ecological process from the point of view resource conservation – an economy based on consistent fairness, partnership, support and understanding, and a development in which the necessary social needs of their market participants, especially poor farmers in developing countries are met.

1. Sustainable ecological processes exemplified by tea cultivation

For organic farming in developing countries, sustainability means not only bureaucratically complying with European organic farming laws, but also creating real farming and nutrient cycles that have a positive impact on humus formation and soil fertility. Doing so, ensures environmental and climate protection and supports the future nutrition of people in a positive way. In addition, such processes must be supported with proper advice and good quality management and the implementation must be permanently, practically and completely controlled.

2. Sustainable economy exemplified by tea cultivation

For the economy – and thus for all market participants who trade in organic products – this means gradually abandoning old trading structures and developing a form of pricing that is not on the based on the market but rather on the costs of production and fair marketing opportunities. Such prices will vary individually depending on how the development of sustainable processes has progressed and the sales of the total production have been secured. In this respect, the trade has a great responsibility.

Fair prices for sustainably produced products can only be realised if a market for sustainable products is established. As long as there is majority of market participants who do not want the rewards that come from sustainable development, there is little chance of successful and swift development in a sustainable ecological process. If it is always about the lowest possible price, then the market situation becomes increasingly unfair and exploitative, to which many market participants still turn a blind eye. If producers do not generate the revenue they need to cover their production costs in organic farming, then they will turn to saving on the costs of production to compensate for losses, which are often saved in the social sector by paying their employees and farmers poorly. At worst, they are forced to violate the sustainable process. All of this happens because we do not have a sustainable culture in the global economy, nor in the organic economy. These aspects of unfairness and exploitation play a very important role in the violation of organic farming in developing countries. On the other hand, it hardly matters that European market participants are the ones driving producers into these desperate situations with their unfair prices. This situation doesn’t allow for the proper implementation the organic process.

3. Sustainable social responsibility exemplified by tea cultivation

In developing countries, sustainable social responsibility of the market participants to the farmers and employees of a bio tea plantation is inextricably linked to the success of sustainable organic farming. Farmers and employees of a bio tea plantation do the extra work in organic farming. In tea growing, for example, this means physically strenuous work in weed pulling by hand. In China, for example, about 1,700 small farmers manually haul 360 hectares of cultivated land twice a year. For all their organic agricultural work, including tea harvesting and pre-processing of the tea, independent small farmers receive about 35 to 50 euros per month. They are rarely paid extra for the extra work in organic farming.

Machines support can only provide limited relief and is often non-existent for cost reasons. Compost production and its application in high altitudes on mountains and in unpredictable terrain is also difficult work, which must be carried out predominantly by hand. Yield losses, which arise in organic farming, must also be supported by the small farmers. Often the farmers were not even asked for their consent before switching to organic farming. In most cases, small holders do not know what organic farming means, nor do the producers, who are often only interested in higher export prices, which are usually achieved for organically produced products with organic certificates. Consulting structures are not available in China and organic advice is virtually impossible for farmers and producers. However, organic certificates are still issued. Not only does this make mistakes happen, but also forces farmers to break the rules of organic farming for economic reasons.

In China, it is relatively easy for European importers to select agricultural companies as suppliers that comply with Chinese labor law and thus with ILO (International Labour Organisation) standards. Importers could thus opt out of exploitation and lawlessness by favoring companies that lease the land from smallholder farmers and hire the former smallholders as workers. This is a way to ensuring the law as these companies must enter into employment contracts with all employees under Chinese labor law. Employment contracts regulate statutory working hours, a right to health insurance, accident insurance, pension insurance and a minimum wage of about 200 euros per month. However, for importers who opt for such social sustainability, the result is that the production costs of products produced in this way are higher, and the price of products is correspondingly higher.

Therefore, rather few importers make use of this choice, or they are too comfortable, not conscientious and responsible enough, or do not know these choices. Sustainability certifications and FairTrade certifications do not ensure such fair working conditions do not ensure such fair working conditions, as they promote exploitation and lawlessness by certifying small-scale structures in which exploitation takes place.


  • February 2014
    Die negative Entwicklung im Xinanyuan-Projekt mit den Farmen Hecheng, Xinanyuan, Liukou 1, Liukou 2 und Mingzhou konnte nicht korrigiert werden. Fairbiotea distanziert sich nun dauerhaft vom Xinanyuan-Projekt. Die Teesorten ab der Ernte 2013 dürfen nicht mit dem Fairbiotea-Siegel vermarktet werden.
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  • July 2013
    Negative Entwicklung im Fairbiotea-Projekt Xinanyuan (die Farmen Hecheng, Xinanyuan, Liukou 1, Liukou 2 und Mingzhou) Fairbiotea distanziert sich vorübergehend oder dauerhaft vom Xinanyuan-Projekt. Die Teesorten aus der Ernte 2013 dürfen nicht unter dem Fairbiotea-Siegel vermarktet werden. Alle Teesorten aus vorheriger Produktion können weiterhin mit diesem Siegel vermarktet werden.
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  • December 2012
    Probleme bei der Kontrolle des ökologischen Produktionsprozesses in den Farmen Liukou und Hecheng (Xinanyuan-Projekt). Bei den Routineuntersuchungen aller Tee-Chargen des Xinanyuan 4-Farmen-Projektes wurden seit vielen Jahren stets die BNN-Orientierungswerte eingehalten. Bei jeweils einem Tee aus der Liukou-Farm und der Hecheng-Farm wurde nun ein im ökologischen Anbau verbotenes Herbizid (Unkrautvernichtungsmittel) gemessen.
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  • August 2012
    Herstellungskosten, Exportpreise und Qualität im ökologischen Anbauprozess. Der wirtschaftliche Erfolg von z.B. China oder Indien verändert auch die traditionellen, sozialwirtschaftlichen Strukturen bei der Landbevölkerung und deren bisherige Arbeitsbedingungen und Lebensstandards.
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  • June 2012
    Weltweite Kostensteigerungen in der Teeproduktion und stark steigende Importpreise. Nicht nur bei Tee steigen die Herstellungskosten und verteuern sich die Vertriebswege. Alle landwirtschaftlichen Produkte sind von Kostensteigerungen betroffen. 
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  • January 2012
    Messbare Rückstände von Pflanzenschutzmitteln. Nichts gespritzt und doch belastet, so wurde ein Bericht der BNN-Nachrichten (Ausgabe September/2011 auf Seite 19) überschrieben. 
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  • December 2011
    Entwicklungsprogramm natürlicher Nährstoffkreislauf - Kompostseminar, Kompostherstellung und -forschung: Im Oktober 2011 wurde im Auftrag des Fairbiotea-Importeurs ein Seminar veranstaltet. Das Seminar wurde von dem Bodenkundler Tobias Bandel geleitet. 
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  • November 2011
    Inspektion der Fairbiotea-Standards durch eine unabhängige Kontrollstelle. Unter http://www.fairbiotea.de/zertifizierung.html haben wir die Bestätigung der Biokontrollstelle IMO für alle 4 Biofarmen veröffentlicht. 
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  • September 2011
    Inspektion der Fairbiotea-Standards durch eine unabhängige Kontrollstelle. Im Sommer 2011 wurden in allen Fairbiotea-Teefarmen Kontrollen durchgeführt, bei denen neben der normalen Kontrolle nach EU-Verordnung und nach USDA NOP auch die Entwicklung der zusätzlichen ökosozialen Fairbiotea-Standards überprüft wurden. 
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