With organic tea, the aim is always to remain as close as possible to a natural system, avoiding additives of any sort. The growers believe that artificial fertilizers create artificial tea, and that organic tea should consist of 100 percent organic ingredients with no other additives besides water.
The 133 year old Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation entered the plantation business in 1913. Today its plantations in the hills of South India cover 2,822 hectares under tea. These plantations are located in prime plantation areas, producing 8 million kgs of tea annually.
In keeping with the growing global trend of environmental awareness and preservation, Bombay Burmah pioneered the organic cultivation of tea in 1988. The key decider in selecting the ideal site was absolute and total isolation from pollution. Oothu Tea Estate, a part of the Corporation’s Singampatti Group of Estates, proved ideal. Surrounded by vast untouched forests, this tea estate is virtually untouched by contamination from any industry.
Organic tea at Oothu is grown with absolutely no chemical input or artificial fertilizers. Nutrition is provided by the use of vermiculture and large scale application of compost and oil cakes, which break down quickly in the field and have very low impact on humans. All pest and disease control is carried out by purely natural methods of cultivation. Because weeds are one of the biggest issues, it is a common practice to hire more laborers to weed on organic farms.
The natural pressures of organic farming force the tea plants to be stronger than conventional plants, which are pampered by a chemical shield. Researchers have suggested that these internal strengths might result in a more nutritious leaf because the plant’s immune system is composed of phenolic compounds that include Vitamin C and antioxidants, which reduce cell damage in humans. Some scientific studies have shown that organically grown foods have higher levels of phenolics than conventionally grown foods. In the absence of synthetic fertilizers, researches believe that organic plants create more phenolics as a protective measure against disease, pests and stresses.
Today, Oothu Tea Estate produces 1 million kgs of organic tea annually.
In 1992, a factory dedicated to the manufacture of organic tea was built at Oothu. Both black and green tea are currently produced here. This production is carefully inspected and certified by The Institut Für Marktökologie, Switzerland, who are accredited to EEC and associate members of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). The certification conforms to EEC regulations for production of organic agricultural products, as well as standards for Organic Food Products of the United States.
In the organic certification process, inspectors visit organic farms each year to review farm methods, crop rotations, seed sources, compost, and other aspects of the organic administration to make sure that they meet the governing body’s regulations. The inspector then submits a report to an organization accredited by the IFOAM or USDA, or any of the 56 domestic or 43 foreign certification bodies. The report details the farmer’s practices and raises any warning signals. The reviewer then allows the farmer to remain certified or begins a process to suspend or revoke certification if the methods violate regulations. This structure provides a third-party review of both the farmer’s methods and the inspector’s assessment, protecting the integrity of the underlying product. Inspectors and their organizations are also banned from any business relationship with the farms.
Unfortunately, there are no agreed-upon international standards for organic teas. A regulatory hodgepodge around the world now significantly inhibits trade by forcing export-oriented organic growers in developing countries to seek certification from multiple bodies in Europe, Japan, and the United States.
Neem tree oil, extracted from fruits and seeds of the neem tree and rich in antioxidants and fatty acids, attacks insect larvae as well. Although it breaks down quickly in the field, it is not benign because it simultaneously targets pests and beneficial insects too. For this reason botanical insecticides are used sparingly and in only the most persistent cases of harmful insect infestation.
The foothills of Mt. Kanchenjunga (Nepali:कञ्चनजङ्घा Kanchanjaŋghā), (Limbu Language: Sewalungma) in Nepal are believed to be a treasure of medicinal plants and ayurvedic herbs. Ayurvedic system of pest management is a natural and traditional system based on farmers own skills and techniques. Ayurvedic principle strongly believes in preventive measures. Therefore, leaves of pest-repellent botanicals like Titepati, Bakaino, etc. are mixed with the compost which is applied to each bush. A mixture of various plant abstracts and cow urine is applied if there is a severe attack. In addition to it pest-repellent plants like Ashuro, Khirro, Bakaino, Citronella and lemongrass are planted in the garden. The basic philosophy underlying this principle is that all forms of life are inter-related and inter-dependent and that each have an inherent part to play in the over all design of Nature. Various traditional methods are used to improve soil quality thereby increasing the long-term fertility of the soil. The supply of nutrients is met mainly by compost-green manure produced in the backyards of farmers and the surrounding farms.