Development status of Wulongshan tea garden
The Wulongshan tea plantation currently consists of six tea gardens, namely the organic certified agricultural land of six villages. The cultivated tea area amounts to 52.11 hectares. There, 646 tons of fresh tea leaves are harvested, which are processed in two pre-processing factories and one final processing plant to approximately 160 tons of finished dried organic tea.
Two plots were returned to the owners in 2019, as the lease prices would have increased significantly after the lease contract expired. At the same time, another plot was also returned to the owner as it was too small and too remote for profitable organic farming. For more information on the events surrounding the abandonment and sale of two other, larger plots at the end of 2019, see the Wulongshan Newsletter 2020.
Since May 2021, one more plot is in conversion to organic cultivation. The total area in conversion is 28 hectares.
Area in conversion to organic cultivation since 2021
Certifications, security, sustainability
The minimum requirements of the Fairbiotea development plan have always been satisfactorily met, thus fulfilling the requirements for Fairbiotea membership.
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 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 conversion of the remaining conventional farmland to organic farming began in 2017, there is no longer any parallel production in Wulongshan where conventional products and organic products are grown alongside, next to or behind each other. This prevents conventionally produced products from contaminating organically produced products or causing unwanted mixing. Purely organic production takes place throughout the tea plantation.
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 stipulates the preparation of a compost production plan, which can be implemented without professional advice only to a limited extent.
Wulongshan has already started compost production in 2019. There will be many hurdles to overcome before a sustainable nutrient cycle is created, which also aims to store CO2 in the soil. Due to covid restrictions, compost production was interrupted for a year in 2020.
The available area in Wulongshan is not yet sufficient to harvest enough biomass for compost production. In addition, there are currently only a few animals in the tea plantation. Therefore, biomass and manure still have to be purchased from outside for the compost. Cost-intensive special machines are still missing, as are tools for the professional production of high-quality compost.
Since December 2022, a consultancy agreement has been in place between ECOCERT, Fairbiotea and Wulongshan. The consultancy will focus on nutrient cycles and the production of compost on the farm. Fairbiotea finances 80% of the considerable consultancy costs, the producer contributes 20%.
Further sustainable measures to fix nitrogen in the soil and to build humus still need to be learned.
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 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.
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.
Residues of chemical plant protection products are not measurable in Wulongshan tea.
The Wulongshan tea garden management has taken many measures since 2016 to eliminate contamination as far as possible during the production process in the tea factories. 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. There are thousands of individual hazardous substances and it takes many years to carry out investigation procedures and adapt laws to new findings. However, there is clear evidence that organic products contain only a fraction of the chemical residues of non-organic products.
Sustainable social employment
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. There is also a statutory minimum wage, which is often far exceeded for 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.
Fairbiotea has also fulfilled its commitments to Wulongshan and has advised the tea garden management on its sustainability development. In addition, from 2016 to 2021, around 650 tons of Wulongshan tea were exported to Germany on behalf of Fairbiotea, and in 2022 it will be almost 143 tons. Fairbiotea provides a long-term purchase guarantee for this quantity, which means 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 swift 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 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. Wulongshan, Fairbiotea and the responsible and independent third country organic control body cooperate in these additional controls. Read more about this in our article about general security measures for Fairbiotea projects.
Updated 17 January 2023