Development status of Dongzhai Tea Garden / Wuliang Heart Project
The development partnership will continue in terms of sustainability consulting and the marketing of tea types and quantities in Europe.
The Fairbiotea system has emerged in order to fill a lack of knowledge about organic agriculture, quality management and sustainability in certified organic tea plantations. In the majority of the Chinese tea gardens, there is a consistent need for advice on sustainable organic and social development. In addition, European traders and consumers have very little knowledge about the real situation in the organic tea gardens. Fairbiotea seeks to close these information gaps through counselling and honest reporting and to support eco-social development.
In the Dongzhai tea garden, they hardly needed any advice from Fairbiotea. From the beginning, the Dong family initiated a sustainable development in an unusual and exemplary way. This was precisely the reason why Fairbiotea added this tea garden as a member, supports its sustainable development and opens up sales markets for the excellent Dongzhai tea in Europe.
Any sustainable development requires considerable financial resources, which are only available if the sustainably produced products are sold cost-covering.
Environmental contamination / pesticides
The constantly improving laboratory analysis in Europe discovers more and more harmful substances in food, including tea, which is mainly attributed to contaminants from the worldwide increasing environmental pollution.
Emissions and combustion residues from industry, traffic and private households, but also global environmental disasters and industrial agriculture contaminate in adverse weather conditions the organically grown products. Sometimes these environmental pollutants consist of substances that cannot be distinguished in their chemical combination from pesticides. This makes it difficult to determine whether a plant protection product that is forbidden in organic farming has entered the organic product due to prohibited use or due to unavoidable environmental contamination. From unavoidable environmental contaminants new chemical compounds can be formed, e.g. through roasting processes and smoke in the tea processing with high temperatures, which again cannot be distinguished from prohibited plant protection products. The global environmental pollution can only be tackled with a global environmental policy.
Modernisation and minimisation of harmful substances
So far, hardly any substances of concern have been found in the Dongzhai teas. Therefore, hardly any minimisation measures or measures to improve the hygiene were necessary.
There has been only once been a very light trace of glyphosate, a herbicide, in a Dongzhai tea. The residue value was so low that one cannot assume a prohibited application in organic agriculture. In the vicinity of the tea garden, there are still conventionally grown cultivated tea cultivation areas, which are managed in small-scale agriculture by the smallholders of the municipality of Zhengwan. Presumably, the glyphosate came from the surrounding conventional agriculture and reached the tea through streams and the watering system of the tea garden. Hardly any precautionary measures can be taken to prevent this. Glyphosate is widely used worldwide and is used in large quantities in conventional agriculture, for weed removal on roadsides and by private households.
The Dongzhai tea garden maintains safety distances to the conventionally cultivated areas in order to reduce the risk of contamination of the organic tea cultivation areas by conventional agriculture. In the last two years, no glyphosate residues have been found anymore in the Dongzhai tea. Every tea lot of Fairbiotea is analysed in the laboratory. In case that a questionable contamination is detected, the cause will immediately be investigated and measures are undertaken to minimise these substances.
Compost and nutrients
The Dongzhai tea garden produces about 1000 tons of compost per year (about 6 tons per hectare). The necessary biomass for the compost is collected in the tea garden by the farmers. It consists of freshly cut plant parts, brown withered plant material and clay. Since not enough animals are available in the tea garden as dung suppliers, the tea garden management buys the additional required dung from goat farmers.
The production of 1000 tons of compost can no longer be done by hand. For the turning of the compost alone, large machines are needed, which are available in the Dongzhai tea garden. The compost must be turned several times. The US organic regulation requires the compost to be turned at least five times. In the EU organic regulation there are few prescriptions for the production of compost.
It is still to be examined whether the quality of the compost in the Dongzhai tea plantation may be improved by a Fairbiotea consultation. It is desirable to have an internal nutrient cycle in which, in addition to the plant material for the compost, also the dung comes from the tea garden itself. The keeping of the additional needed animals could be accomplished by the farmers’ households themselves. This would at the same time offer them the chance of an additional source of income. However, the farmers may lack the time for additional animal keeping or may lack pasture areas, stables or available food for the animals. There are various reasons that could impede an internal nutrient cycle.
Since there is no research on the subject of compost in tea agriculture, which could be consulted, different methods must be tested first for the best compost production and application. In the Fairbiotea project, the costs and benefits of different production and application methods are explored in order to achieve the highest possible compost yield at the lowest possible cost. The aim is to find the right balance for an economic organic agriculture.
Sustainable tea production
The tea selection of the Dongzhai tea garden is qualitative remarkable, and the sustainable management of the tea garden is expensive. Compared to the types of tea that are commonly available in Europe, Dongzhai teas are of significantly higher quality and therefore more expensive. Only high-quality teas bring the higher revenue, which is necessary in order to cover the costs of sustainable agriculture. Due to the high prices, the demand for high-quality teas in Europe is low and this is why Dongzhai tea can be imported into the EU only in small quantities.
A new modern tea factory has been built, in which it is possible to separate the production of conventional and organic tea and avoid the contamination by parallel production.
The private vegetable gardens for the private sustenance of the farmers are cultivated in an organic way. The tea garden management is particularly attentive that no prohibited plant protection products are used here either.
Sustainable social employment
The farmers were trained in tea production and in organic tea cultivation. Each family receives from the tea garden management a cultivable area that is sufficient to earn a living. A remuneration system has been developed, where the individual working steps are paid for providing incentives for motivation.
Each step of the work, such as the removal of weeds, the collection of biomass for compost production, the spreading of the compost, the collection of tea parasites etc. is planned and monitored by the tea garden management.
Each farmer should collect for example 400 kilograms of biomass for the production of compost. The fact that everything that is gathered in addition to this quantity is paid very well, motivates the farmers to collect much more.
Similarly handled is the collection of tea parasites from the bushes. The compensation in this case is paid according to the number of caterpillars that have been collected. In this way, the farmers are motivated and adequately remunerated for their extra work in the organic agriculture.
The compensation for the tea harvest is fair and follows clear rules – namely according to the collected quantity and the quality of the plucking. Since only very high-quality tea leaves are plucked and processed into excellent types of tea, it is important to motivate the farmers to pluck only the best and youngest buds and tea leaves.
The tea processing in the tea factory up to the packaging of the finished tea is carried out by trained employees of the tea garden. The payment is above average and adapted to modern China. The living conditions of the workers are comfortable, compared to the situation in other small-scale Chinese tea gardens.
Throughout the tea garden, mutual respect between management and farmers is palpable. That’s why the project is also called Wuliang Heart, endless heart. The cordiality is present all over the teagarden. This is not to be taken for granted in China.
The Chinese rural population usually does not have an easy life and is threatened by exploitation and corruption. Therefore, in recent years many young people of working age have left their families to find better paid work, often far from home, in the big cities in the east of the country. This negative development has been prevented in the Dongzhai tea garden by a unique, sustainable and fair employment model.
The young families who decide to live and work in the tea garden do that with a long-term perspective. They receive from the management about 1 hectare of tea acreage for cultivation and free housing. The homes are comfortable for rural Chinese conditions.
Each working family member earns at least 10,000 RMB per year, the equivalent of about 1300 Euro. In addition, further income can be earned through diligence. For example, when collecting biomass for compost, for anything that goes beyond the amount of 400 kilograms per year, 4 RMB per 10 kilograms are paid. Likewise, the farmers receive an additional payment for every 100 tea pests (caterpillars) collected from the tea bushes. These additional works are popular and the farmers are motivated to generate as much additional revenue as possible.