In 1841 a Scottish surgeon, Dr. Campbell planted the first tea garden in the Darjeeling region of Northern India. For a century, the tea industry in India thrived, and Darjeeling tea was prized. After independence in 1947 the tea gardens fell into disarray under the Indian government’s policy of “rapid industrialization.” However, it is now thriving again thanks to organic farming methods and fair trade sales.
On the Makaibari estate the descendants of the Nepalese immigrants brought to India in the 19th century work in a tea garden that is India’s first organic certified tea plantation. Makaibari is one of the oldest tea gardens in India. Owned and managed by Rajah Banerjee, a fourth generation owner, it is has been 100 percent organic and biodynamic since 1991.
In 1971 Banerjee decided to switch to a permaculture style of agriculture, which is a multi-tier system of trees and plants that are found in a sub-tropical rainforest. A permaculture system is supposed to have four tiers, but Makaibari has six. As a result, sixty-six percent of the plantation’s acreage is a rainforest.
“We give our tea plantation constant and natural assistance with biodynamic techniques. One look at our land, even to the unschooled eye, will show a forest teeming with wildlife and plant life, a bounty of the sky with butterflies and birds, and all these synergistic life forces show up in the cup,” said Banerjee.
Benefits of fair trade sales
The last owner managed estate in its district, Makaibari workers benefit from fair trade sales. In India, tea workers are part of the plantation system and as such are guaranteed a negotiated wage by trade unions. Although tea garden owners have to provide a “basic level of accommodation, healthcare and education for workers,” the extra money from fair trade sales enables the workers to create social and productive programs.
In 2004 the Makaibari workers purchased two computers and a printer to began a computer education program for its almost 100 children. They also installed electricity in their homes
According to Ode magazine:
“The salaries are in line with other plantations in Darjeeling, but the difference is that all 1,600 pickers receive an annual bonus and, above all, enjoy better living conditions in their compound on the plantation. The proof is in the product’s success. The Makaibari plantation workers never go on strike while strikes by the local militant Ghurkha population are rife at other plantations.”
The Mineral Springs Cooperative is a seven acre multi-crop system, and one of 352 tea collectives that sell organic, fair trade tea to the nearby Selimbong estate to process.
For each kilo of FLO certified tea, the Collective’s workers get $1.20 from international sales. With the money they built a community center and tea store house with money, began a credit union, and started training programs.
The short documentary by Transfair, about the Sanjukta Vikas Collective, shows how tea workers benefit from fair trade sales.