Development status of Wulongshan tea garden
The Wulongshan tea plantation currently consists of five tea gardens, namely the organic certified agricultural land of five villages. The cultivated tea area amounts to 38.97 hectares. There, 546 tons of fresh tea leaves are harvested, which are processed in two preprocessing factories and one final processing plant to approximately 130 tons of finished dried organic tea.
For two more plots the lease contract expired 2019. Because the lease rate would have increased considerably, these plots have been returned to their owners. One more plot was also returned to its owner, since it was too small and too far off to operate it profitable with organic cultivation.
Since May 2019, one more plot and some additional agricultural land of one of the above plots are in conversion to organic cultivation. The total area in conversion is about 13 hectares. There, about 184 tons of fresh tea leaves are harvested, which are processed in the above-mentioned factories to approximately 44 tons of finished dried tea.
Areas in conversion to organic cultivation since 2019
After the respective annual inspection, the organic control body decides when the conversion period will be completed and which harvest quantities will be allowed for export. These decisions are based on factual empirical values and legal requirements.
Certifications, security, sustainability
In the year 2018, the minimum requirements of the Fairbiotea development plan were fully implemented. Thus, the preconditions for a Fairbiotea membership are fulfilled.
Consulting and development
Fairbiotea has arisen because of the fact that in organic certified tea gardens there is usually little knowledge about organic farming, quality management and sustainability. In most Chinese organic tea gardens there is a great need for advice regarding their sustainable 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.
In addition, there is an urgent need for organic consultancy and organic farming organisations in China, which even after more than 20 years of organic farming still do not exist there.
Since organic consultancy is missing and organic control bodies are not allowed to consult, Chinese organic producers are improvising. This fact and the cultural differences between Chinese and Europeans often lead to misunderstandings.
Fairbiotea advises the management in the companies and the managers then pass on their knowledge to the employees. A professional company training is not guaranteed. Fairbiotea creates development plans that serve the tea gardens as a basis for a sustainable development.
Since the beginning of the conversion of the remaining conventional cultivation areas to organic farming in the year 2017, there is no longer any parallel production in Wulongshan. This prevents organically manufactured products from being contaminated by conventional products or the unwanted mixing of the two. Parallel production means that conventional products and organic products are grown or processed together, parallel or in succession. Since 2017 the entire tea plantation produces solely organically. The private vegetable gardens of the workers and peasants in the villages are also controlled by the tea garden management. No prohibited plant protection products are used there either.
Sustainable ecological agriculture, nutrient cycle
Organic farming must be much more than the refraining of chemical pesticides, more than what the EU regulation regulates and more than what organic control bodies usually control. In organic farming, nutrient management is essential. The core of organic farming is the circular economy. This means that nutrients that are extracted from the agriculture by harvesting are to be re-entered into agriculture by the production and application of compost.
The Fairbiotea development plan provides the preparation of a plan for compost production, which is then also implemented. However, it can take years for a tea garden to produce its own compost.
Encouragingly, Wulongshan took initiative very quickly and made their first compost pile in June 2019. The areas available for tea cultivation in Wulongshan are not sufficient to harvest enough biomass for compost production. In addition, there are currently only a few animals in the tea plantation. That is why they had to buy biomass and dung for their first compost pile from exterior sources. For heaping up and turning the pile Wulongshan rented a frontloader.
Expensive special-purpose machines are still missing, also a suitable semi-permeable foil to cover the compost protecting it against rain und too much moisture. For this purpose Wulongshan constructed a kind of straw roof on a rack above the pile. There was no compost production in 2020 because of covid-19 restrictions.
Another measure the Fairbiotea development plan provides and which can be implemented relatively easily is the growing of plants like melilotus in order to fix nitrogen in the soil and for the suppression of weeds. This measure has not yet been implemented in Wulongshan.
For a good nutrient supply, the labour-intensive manual weeding between the tea plants is also important. This also helps to prevent contamination of crops with plant toxins that are found in weeds. The manual weeding is implemented in Wulongshan. Three to four times a year, one week before the respective tea harvest, the weeds are removed by hand.
To ensure nutrient supply, the tea garden management is still purchasing expensive organic fertilisers.
Sustainable tea processing, modernisation of tea factories, hygiene management, contamination management
The requirements of European food 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 steadily improving laboratory analysis in Europe is discovering more and more hazardous substances in food, also in tea, which are mainly due to contaminants from the worldwide increasing environmental impact.
All these are problems that Chinese producers have to solve at their expense for us in Europe.
Exhaust emissions and combustion residues from industry, transport and households, but also global environmental disasters and industrial agriculture contaminate under unfavourable weather conditions ecologically grown agricultural products. The environmental pollutants often consist of substances which in their chemical composition cannot be distinguished from plant protection products. This makes it difficult to determine whether a substance in an organic product, which is prohibited in organic farming, originates from prohibited use or from unavoidable contamination from the environment. From unavoidable environmental contaminants, for example, new chemical compounds can arise during the tea processing at high temperatures due to roasting processes and smoke, which again can also not be distinguished from prohibited plant protection products. Global environmental pollution can only be tackled with a global environmental policy. Nevertheless, the EU laws prescribe compliance with limit values and the minimisation of contamination residues.
Residues of chemical plant protection products are not measurable in Wulongshan tea.
Since 2016, the management of Wulongshan tea garden has taken many measures to eliminate contamination during the production process in the tea factories wherever it was possible. For this purpose, Wulongshan has invested a lot of money in the modernisation of buildings and processing machines.
- Hygienic conditions have been improved in chosen tea factories. The factories were rebuilt or newly built.
- Coal and wood combustion in the tea processing has been replaced by electric power or the use of gas where possible.
- The mechanisms for temperature control in the tea processing have been improved.
- Possible sources for contaminations by lubricants (mineral oil) have been eliminated.
- The HACCP hygiene management has been introduced and certified.
- The documentation and traceability of the flow of goods as well as the marking of tea packaging have been improved in all areas of the company.
- Each batch of tea is analysed on chemical residues in an analysis laboratory.
Recent laboratory results show that the modernisation measures of Wulongshan were very successful.
In the production of Chun Mee green tea, the tea leaves undergo a roasting process at very high temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius, whereby health-hazardous chemicals can arise. The compliance with the European legal limit values requires an enormous effort. The same applies to the above described processing of tea leaves, which are contaminated by unavoidable environmental chemicals, that can change into other chemicals when heated.
As mentioned, new hazardous substances that exist in nature or from the general environmental pollution are constantly being discovered. Hence, we will further on have to deal with minimisation measures in future – especially since there is hardly any scientific research which actually should serve as a basis for the laws that are enacted.
It is an illusion that organic agriculture and the nature itself could be free of all hazardous substances. The EU laws on pollutants in food are partly based on assumptions that are not scientifically substantiated or that are obsolete. There are thousands of individual hazardous substances and it takes many years to carry out investigation procedures and adapt laws to new findings. It is clear, however, that organic products contain only a fractional amount of the chemical residues of non-organic products.
Sustainable social employment
Wulongshan is a company that has rented the land of its organic certified tea gardens from small farmers. The company management is thus responsible for the agricultural land and the processing factories. The previously independent small farmers are employed by the company Wulongshan and have an employment contract. In China, company farms such as Wulongshan are subject to Chinese labour law and are legally required to provide employment contracts to all employees.
Chinese labour law is comparable to labour law in Germany and applies to all short and long-term employees of a company. All employees are entitled to get an employment contract. In addition, there is a legal minimum wage of about 200 euros per month, which is often far exceeded in the case of qualified employees. All employees have a statutory health, pension and accident insurance. Contributions to these are paid proportionately by employers and employees. The international labour standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) are observed in Chinese companies. For the former small farmers, these working conditions bring an enormous improvement in their income and social protection and thus a protection against poverty. They have rights which they didn’t have as small farmers and are largely protected against exploitation.
Sustainable development cooperation and trade cooperation
Since the beginning of the development cooperation with Fairbiotea at the beginning of 2016, the Wulongshan tea plantation has developed very well. Much has been done to achieve sustainable international standards. It is now important to achieve higher revenue in order to secure and further develop sustainability objectives in the long-term.
With the continuous work on the implementation of the development plan developed by Fairbiotea, Wulongshan tea garden management has taken the responsibility for sustainable development in the fields of ecology, social affairs, quality management and economy. This will end the lack of rights, exploitation and mismanagement, which are common in small-scale organic tea gardens.
In the meantime, the Wulongshan tea plantation has met all the minimum requirements for a Fairbiotea membership and became a full member in 2018.
Fairbiotea has also fulfilled its obligations towards Wulongshan and has advised the tea garden management in its sustainability development. In addition, in 2016 and 2017 almost 200 tons of Wulongshan tea were exported each year to Germany on behalf of Fairbiotea, 2018 it has been the whole organic certified harvest, about 125 tons. For this quantity, Fairbiotea gives a long-term purchase guarantee, which means an important investment and planning security for Wulongshan. The guaranteed purchase volume 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, which take into account the cost of sustainable development and provide producers with sufficient revenue for their rapid sustainability development. If it lacks in financial means from tea sales, sustainability can develop only slowly or producers are forced to take high risks when investing or they finance their sustainable development from savings or loans.
In order to provide Wulongshan with higher revenue for its sustainable development, Fairbiotea plans to further develop their mutual cooperation. This can be supported by fairer tea prices in Europe as well as by greater export volumes or by diversifying the tea varieties produced at Wulongshan.
Traditionally, only two varieties of green tea are produced for export in Wulongshan tea plantation: the leaf tea Chun Mee and the Fannings, which are made from the sieving of this tea and used for infusion bag production in Europe.
About 20 percent of the whole harvest, the best spring tea varieties Yuncui, Silver Sprout and Tribute Tea, are sold in the Chinese market at 6 to 25 times higher prices than could be achieved in export. The teas produced for export to Europe achieve the lowest prices of all teas produced at Wulongshan. By producing additional teas for export, which can achieve higher prices or larger export volumes in the European market, the revenue of Wulongshan could be increased, but for this also further investments would have to be made.
Additional controls by the third country organic control body
In addition to the regular inspections of the organic control bodies for the respective certifications, the Fairbiotea development plan provides for further controls by Fairbiotea. This is necessary because the inspections in the context of the certification procedures are not sustainable or inadequate. Wulongshan, Fairbiotea and the responsible and independent third country organic control body cooperate for these additional controls.
The basis of these additional controls is a contractual agreement, which creates complete transparency in the cooperation between Wulongshan, Fairbiotea and the third country organic control body. There is a constant open exchange of data between Wulongshan, Fairbiotea and the third country organic control body. Fairbiotea commissions the control body. It controls the compliance and implementation of the measures and objectives of the Fairbiotea development plan. This control takes place either during the annual organic inspection or during an extra-scheduled inspection. The inspection report is sent to both Fairbiotea and Wulongshan.
For each tea export on behalf of Fairbiotea, an additional export inspection is carried out by the third country organic control body (TraCert inspection). In this inspection, the condition of the packaging and the marking of the goods provided for export are checked according to precise specifications. In addition, the inspectors draw samples from each batch of tea according to a specific sampling plan, seal them and send them to Fairbiotea. In addition, they check the agricultural origin of the goods and compare them with the information provided by the producer. Afterwards Fairbiotea gets an inspection report in order to decide about the goods release.
The above mentioned sealed samples are examined for pollutants and prohibited plant protection products in an accredited German food laboratory. Fairbiotea evaluates the laboratory reports and grants the producer a goods release for shipment or rejects the goods – depending on the findings of the laboratory report.
Fairbiotea forwards the laboratory reports to the producer. If a shipment release is granted by Fairbiotea, the producer applies for a certificate of inspection for the import to Europe from the responsible third country organic control body. For this purpose, the producer also submits the laboratory reports. Thereby the control body can additionally examine the organic status by means of the laboratory reports and, on behalf of Fairbiotea, again determines whether the goods were produced at the specified location. As an additional validation, the control body checks the flow of tea quantities of the tea garden.
If the third country organic control body confirms that all legal requirements for the organic status are complied with, a certificate of inspection will be issued. The producer can then initiate the export.
The additional organic security measures described above are not provided in the EU regulation. However, they are necessary because without them it is almost impossible to detect a deliberate fraud with organic products. So far, these measures are executed only when a trading company commissions a third country organic control body and is willing to pay for them.