Development status of Shangba Tea garden & Zhengan Tianci company
The organic certified agricultural land of this tea garden amounts to approximately 530 hectares. Around 1800 tons of fresh tealeaves are harvested here, which are then processed in a preprocessing and final processing factory into about 450 tons of organic tea.
Certifications, security, sustainability
In 2018 the minimum requirements of the Fairbiotea development plan have been fully implemented and therefore the conditions for the membership with Fairbiotea have been met.
Consulting and development
The Fairbiotea system was created out of necessity, because in organic certified tea gardens there is usually only small knowledge about organic agriculture, quality management and sustainability. In the majority of the Chinese tea gardens there is a consistent need for advice regarding to a sustainable organic development.
Moreover, European retailers and consumers hardly know anything about the real situation in the organic tea gardens. Fairbiotea wants to close these information gaps through advice and honest reporting and to actively support sustainable development in China and Europe.
Furthermore, in China there is an urgent need for centres of organic consulting and organisations of the organic growers. Even after more than 20 years, these institutions do not exist there.
As consulting centres are missing and organic control bodies are not allowed to counsel, Chinese organic companies are forced to improvise. This fact and the cultural differences between Chinese and Europeans often lead to misunderstandings.
Fairbiotea provides its consulting services to the management of these companies, who in turn transmit their knowledge to their workers. An internal, professional training system is still not yet guaranteed. In addition, Fairbiotea compiles development plans which serve as a basis for a sustainable development.
Since the beginning of the conversion of the remaining conventional cultivation areas into organic ones in 2014, there has not been any parallel production in the Shangba tea garden and the processing factories anymore, where conventional and organic products are cultivated or processed either together, next to each other or after another. That way, one can prevent that conventionally processed products contaminate the organic ones or that unwanted mixings occur. Since 2017 the whole company produces only pure organic products.
Sustainable organic agriculture, nutrient cycle
Organic agriculture must be far more than just simply refraining from the use of chemical pesticides, and more than what the EU regulations prescribe and what the organic control bodies check.
In organic agriculture, one cannot forgo nutrients management. The core of organic agriculture is the circular economy. That means: nutrients that are taken out with the harvest should be brought back into the agriculture by the production and application of compost and other natural nutrients.
The Fairbiotea development plan includes a plan for the production of compost, which should subsequently be implemented. Until a tea garden is fully capable of producing enough quantity of its own fertiliser, many years may pass by. Also in Shangba, this part of the development plan will be fully implemented only in a couple of years.
Currently, there are a relatively big number of animals in and around Shangba tea garden who produce dung: 50 cattle and 200 goats. The dung quantity would be enough for a sufficient production of high quality compost. However, the available land in Shangba is not sufficient to collect enough biomass for the compost production. Other sources for this biomass have to be searched and found.
In 2017, about 100 tons of compost were produced. Compared to the size of the agricultural land, this is a relatively small quantity, therefore the tea garden must purchase ready-made organic fertiliser. In order to allow a compost production in sufficient quantities, new cost intensive machines have to be purchased and financed.
The growing of sweet clover for the fixing of nitrogen in the soil and the suppression of weeds is one of the easier measures which the Fairbiotea development plan foresees. This measure is also still not implemented in the Shangba tea garden.
Moreover, for an adequate supply with nutrients, the labour intensive manual removal of weeds between the tea bushes is important. It also helps to prevent the contamination of the crop by toxins which some of these weeds contain. Where the removal of weeds is necessary, it is done by hand. As the planting of bushes in the tea garden is however modern and very dense, the tea bushes shade the ground. This way, the growth of weeds is inhibited and the humidity of the soil is maintained. In consequence, the effort for the manual removal of weeds is kept to a minimum.
Sustainable tea production, modernisation of the tea factories, hygiene and contamination management
The requirements of the European food regulations, trade companies, consumers, certification procedures and the necessary related documentations let the producers face big challenges which are both hard to fulfil with regards to their content and difficult to finance with the current revenues.
The constantly improving laboratory analysis in Europe discovers more and more hazardous substances in food, including tea, which can generally be ascribed to contaminants from the increasing general environmental pollution. Residues of plant protection products have never been detected in Shangba tea.
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 which cannot be distinguished in their chemical composition 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. However, the EU regulations prescribe the observance of the limits as well as the reduction of contamination residues.
The compliance with the regulatory residue limits valid in Europe requires enormous efforts. The tea garden management took from the beginning a series of measures to preclude contaminations during the production process in the factories as much as possible. To that end, Zhengan Tianci Ecological Technology Co., Ltd. invested a lot of money into the modernisation of the buildings and the processing equipment:
- The hygienic conditions have been optimised in all the factories. They have been either renovated or completely rebuilt;
- The coal and wood combustion in the tea processing has been substituted with electric energy where possible;
- The mechanisms of temperature control during tea processing have been improved;
- Possible sources of contaminations by lubricant oils (mineral oils) have been eliminated;
- The HACCP-hygiene and quality management ISO22000 has been introduced and certified;
- The documentation and traceability of the flow of goods as well as the labelling of tea packages have been improved in all sections of the company;
- Each lot of tea is tested for chemical residues in a laboratory.
The laboratory results prove that the modernisation measures have worked successfully.
During the production of the Chun Mee type of green tea, the tealeaves are normally subjected to a roasting process at temperatures over 300 degrees Celsius, in which dangerous chemicals can form.
With an extensive switch from wood and coal as heating fuel to electric energy and through the steaming of the tea leaves in water steam, the contaminations could be minimised. That way also the temperature was decreased, thus reducing the risk of chemical reactions with environmental pollutants during the production process.
Minimisation measures will continue to keep us busy in future, because there are, as mentioned above, constantly new harmful substances discovered, either from natural sources or from the general environmental pollution – especially as there is little scientific research on it, which should actually be the basis for legislation.
It is an illusion to believe that organic agriculture and the nature itself could be free from all harmful substances. The EU legislation for contaminants in food products is sometimes based on presumptions that are not scientifically proven or outdated. There are thousands of unhealthy single components and it takes many years to carry out validation procedures and adapt the laws to the new discoveries. However, it is indisputable documented that organic products contain only a fraction of the chemical residues that are present in non-organic products.
Sustainable social employment conditions
Zhengan Tianci Ecological Technology Co., Ltd is a company that leased the area of its organic certified tea garden originally for 50 years from the state-owned institution “Shangba Educated Youth Farm”. The management of the company is responsible for the agricultural land and for the tea factories. The formerly independent small farmers have been employed by the company and hold a work contract. In China, company-farms like Zhengan Tianci Ecological Technology Co., Ltd are subject to Chinese labour law and are legally obliged to issue work contracts to all of their employees.
The Chinese labour law resembles the German one and it applies to all temporary and permanent employees of a company. All the employees have entitlement to a regular work contract. Moreover, there is a regulatory fixed minimum wage (about 195 euro per month), which often is far exceeded for qualified employees. The wages paid by Zhengan Tianci exceed the minimum wage. A qualified worker with a permanent work contract earns at least 430 euro per month. All employees have a compulsory pension, health and accident insurance. The legally fixed premiums are proportionately paid by the employer and the employee.
The international labour standards prescribed by the ILO (International Labour Organization) are observed by Chinese firms. For the former small farmers, these working conditions represent an enormous improvement for their income and security and therefore a protection from poverty. They hold rights which they didn’t have as independent farmers and they are widely protected against exploitation.
Sustainable development and trade cooperation
Since the beginning of the development cooperation with Fairbiotea in 2014, the Shangba tea plantation developed very well and a lot has been done to reach international sustainability standards. Now it is important to meet higher revenues to assure the sustainability goals in the long run and to be able to further develop.
With the constant work on implementing the Fairbiotea development plan, the Zhengan Tianci tea garden management has taken on responsibility for a sustainable development in the areas of ecology, welfare, quality management and economy. Thus, the lack of rights, exploitation and mismanagement, which are so common in smallholder organic tea gardens, are avoided. Meanwhile, Shangba tea garden and Zhengan Tianci Ecological Technology Co., Ltd as operating company have fulfilled all of the minimum requirements for admission in Fairbiotea and since 2018 they received full membership.
Fairbiotea respectively has met all its obligations to the Shangba tea garden and has advised the tea garden management in its development process. Furthermore, in 2016 and 2017, each year around 200 tons of Shangba tea have been imported into Germany on behalf of Fairbiotea. Fairbiotea gives a long-term purchase guarantee for this quantity, which provides an important investment and planning security for Shangba tea garden and Zhengan Tianci. The guaranteed purchase quantity allows the tea plantation to finance and implement further sustainable developments in the long run.
Unfortunately, the European market refuses to pay fair product prices that take into account the costs of sustainable development and procure enough revenues to the producers for their efficient development. If the financial means from the sales are lacking, sustainability can develop only slowly, or the producers are forced to undertake risky investments or finance their development through savings or loans.
To provide Shangba with higher revenues for its sustainable development, Fairbiotea plans to strengthen their collaboration further. This could be supported by fairer tea prices in Europe as well as by larger export quantities or the diversification of the tea selection produced by Zhengan Tianci.
Traditionally, Zhengan Tianci produces five types of green tea for export: the leaf teas Chun Mee, Sencha, Lung Ching and Gunpowder, as well as Fannings, which are obtained by the sieving of the above mentioned leaf teas and are used for the production of tea bags in Europe.
Approximately 20 percent of the whole tea harvest, the best spring teas, are sold on the Chinese market for 6 to 25 times higher prices than can be realised in export. Of all teas produced by Shangba, the ones produced for export to Europe achieve the lowest prices.
With the production of additional types of tea for export, which could realise higher prices or bigger export quantities in the European market, the revenues of Shangba could increase. But this would also require other investments first.
First and foremost, however, the European consumers should be willing to buy and consume better tea.
Additional controls by the third country organic control body
The Fairbiotea development plan foresees additional controls by Fairbiotea in addition to the inspections for the necessary certifications by the control bodies. This is necessary, because the controls done for the certifications are either not sustainable or not sufficient. Zhengan Tianci, Fairbiotea and the responsible independent third country organic control body collaborate for these controls.
The basis for these additional controls is a contractual agreement which establishes complete transparency in the collaboration between Zhengan Tianci, Fairbiotea and the third country control body. There is a constant open exchange of information between Zhengan Tianci, Fairbiotea and the third country organic control body. Fairbiotea commissions the control body. It checks the compliance and the implementation of the measures and goals of the Fairbiotea development plan. These controls take place either in the context of the yearly audit for the organic certification or at additionally scheduled controls. The inspection reports are then submitted both to Fairbiotea and to Zhengan Tianci.
For each tea export on behalf of Fairbiotea, an additional export inspection is carried out by the third country control body (TraCert inspection). During this inspection, the conditions of the packaging and the labelling of the products, which are ready for export, are checked according to specific parameters. In addition, the inspectors take samples of each lot of tea according to a certain sampling scheme, they seal them and send them to Fairbiotea. They also verify the agricultural origin of the products and compare it with the information provided by the producer. Fairbiotea subsequently receives an inspection report for consideration of releasing the goods.
The sealed tea samples are then tested for contaminants and prohibited pesticides in an accredited German laboratory. Fairbiotea evaluates the laboratory report and gives the producer the OK for shipment of the products or rejects the goods – depending on the laboratory results.
Fairbiotea submits the laboratory reports to the producer. If there is a shipment clearance from Fairbiotea, the producer applies for a transaction certificate for the export to Europe at the responsible third country control body. For this, the producer has to submit the laboratory report as well. The control body has then the chance to check the organic status additionally based on the lab results and determine on behalf of Fairbiotea whether the products have been produced in the stated place. As additional precaution, the control body checks the quantity flows of the tea garden. In case the organic control body certifies that all the statutory standards for the organic status are fulfilled, then it issues the transaction certificate. The producer can then proceed with the export.
All these security measures are not required by the EU organic regulation. They are however necessary, because it would otherwise not be possible to uncover any possible fraud with organic products. These procedures only take place if a trading company commissions them and if it is willing to pay for it.