DEVELOPMENT STATUS OF SHANGBA TEA GARDEN & ZHENGAN TIANCI COMPANY
The organic certified agricultural land of this tea garden amounts to approximately 287 hectares. Previous certificates indicated the area of the total leased land, 530 hectares. However, the control body CERES has carried out a survey of the area actually planted with tea bushes using Google Maps. The above 287 hectares were determined. About 1600 tons of fresh tea leaves are harvested there, which are processed in a pre-processing factory and a final processing factory into about 400 tons of ready-dried 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
Fairbiotea came into being due to the fact that there is usually little knowledge about organic farming, quality management and sustainability in China's organic certified tea gardens. In most of the Chinese organic tea gardens, there is a great need for advice regarding their sustainable development according to European laws and standards.
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.
In addition, organic advisory centres and organic farming associations are urgently needed in China, which, after more than 30 years of organic farming, unfortunately still do not exist there with the desired professionalism with regard to EU standards.
In the meantime, there are Chinese organic advisory centres that advise according to Chinese organic laws. Chinese organic law is not always compatible with European organic law and is even counterproductive in parts. There is still a lack of organic advisory bodies that can advise according to European law. ECOCERT has recently founded such an advisory body in China. However, it is only allowed to advise farms that are not certified organic by ECOCERT. This advice is very expensive and can hardly be financed by smaller producers on their own. If no knowledge or advice is available for producers, Chinese farms improvise. This fact and the cultural differences between Chinese and Europeans often lead to misunderstandings and mistakes in the implementation of organic farming according to the EU regulation.
Fairbiotea advises the management in the farms as best as possible, and the managers then pass on their knowledge to the employees. A company-based, professional training system is not yet in place. Fairbiotea creates development plans that serve the tea gardens as a basis for 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 anymore, where conventional and organic products are cultivated 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 provides for the creation of a compost production plan, which can only be implemented to a limited extent without professional advice. 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.
In 2017, compost was produced for the first time. Compared to the size of the agricultural area, it was only a small quantity, which is why the tea garden has to buy finished organic fertiliser. In the years from 2018 to 2021, no compost was produced.
It was not until 2022 that two trial piles were again set up, with a total quantity of about 35 tons, commissioned by the Fairbiotea Development Plan. However, there is still a considerable need for professional advice on both, compost production and biomass procurement.
Manure can be procured to a certain extent from farmers in the vicinity of the farm. The extent to which the available land in Shangba is sufficient for the procurement of green and brown biomass still needs to be clarified.
However, in order to enable compost production in sufficient quantities, new costly machinery would have to be purchased and financed.
Since December 2022, a consultancy contract exists between ECOCERT, Fairbiotea and Shangba. The consultancy will focus on nutrient cycles and the production of compost on the farm. Fairbiotea finances 80% of the substantial consultancy costs, the producer contributes 20%.
Further sustainable measures to fix nitrogen in the soil and to build humus still need to be learned.
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 European laws, European trade companies, consumers, certification procedures and the related documentation are major challenges for producers, which are both difficult to fulfil in terms of content and hardly to be financed from current revenue.
The constantly improving laboratory analysis in Europe is discovering more and more substances in food, including tea, which are hazardous to health, and which are rarely due to the use of forbidden substances. More and more often, they are hardly avoidable contaminations from the increasing environmental pollution worldwide. Read more about this in our article on the EU control system and its problems.
These are problems that producers are supposed to solve for us in Europe at their own expense, although there are hardly any approaches to solving environmental contamination.
Compliance with the legal residue limit values applicable in Europe is associated with enormous effort. 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 as far as 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.
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 also, 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. 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, there is clear evidence that organic products contain only a fraction of the chemical residues of non-organic products.
Sustainable social employment conditions
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, which often is far exceeded for qualified employees. 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 has also fulfilled its obligations to Shangba and has advised the tea garden management on its sustainability development. In addition, from 2016 to 2021, around 1200 tons of Shangba tea were exported to Germany on behalf of Fairbiotea, and in 2022 it will be over 170 tons. Fairbiotea provides a long-term purchase guarantee for this quantity, which means important investment and planning security for Shangba. The guaranteed purchase quantity enables the tea plantation to finance and implement its further sustainability development in the long term.
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.
Zhengan Tianci produces only three types of green tea for export: the leaf teas Sencha and Lung Ching as well as Fannings made from the sieving of these teas, which are used for tea bag production in Europe.
About 20 percent of the total tea harvest, the best spring teas such as Qucha, are sold in the Chinese market at prices 6 to 25 times higher than can be achieved in export. The teas produced for export to Europe fetch the lowest prices of all teas produced at Shangba.
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 commissioned and financed by Fairbiotea
The Fairbiotea development plan provides for further controls by Fairbiotea in addition to the regular inspections of the control bodies for the respective certifications. This is necessary because the controls in the context of the certification procedures are not sustainable or insufficient. Shangba, Fairbiotea and the responsible and independent third country organic control body cooperate in these additional controls. Read more about this in our article general security measures for Fairbiotea projects.
Updated 2 March 2023