Assam, Darjeeling, North Bengal and Nilgiris are the four best quality of tea produced in India, the largest producer in the world. The Nilgiri is the only one produced in South India. On the hills of this region the most famous and valuable variety of the world’s tea is grown, largely intended for the European markets.
In this district of Tamil Nadu the main production is done in Coonoor, Kotagiri and Ooti and their surroundings, where there are some 3000 hectares of land cultivated for the production of tea. Here the economy revolves almost solely around this industry. Every year they collect about 37,000 tons of leaves from which, after the production process, around 8,500 tons of black tea is produced.
3,500 workers between 18 and 58 years, two-thirds of whom are women, work in the area and the crops depends on the existence of thousands of families. Over the years the consumption of tea and its demand in the world have grown steadily. The tea industry has done the same but in a more than proportional way, giving rise to a physiological oversupply and the consequent fall in prices obtained on the market primarily from smaller producers.
In July this year, despite an increase in GDP of 7.2% for the Indian economy, auction No. 23 of Coonoor Tea Trade Association, 42% of the half million kg on offer they remained unsold.
Despite the economic crisis, in this rural area of India there’s no shortage of good news. The eight largest estates in the area, members of the cooperative Container Tea and Commodities, in 2009 received a sustainability certification from The Rainforest Alliance, a non-governmental and international independent organization.
Glensdale, Havukal, Coonoor, Kairbetta, Dunsandle, Sutton, Parkside and Warwick plantation estates are those where Lipton buys the tea for the famous varieties Yellow Label and Earl Grey. The estates of the Nilgiri are the second, after those of Kericho in Kenya, to have achieved this important certification and today the tea in the filters of these two qualities is 100% from plantations that meet the strict criteria of the Sustainable Agriculture Network whose pillars are environmental protection, social equity and economic viability.
The certification means, in practice, less pollution thanks to a controlled use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, reforestation to reduce soil erosion, improving of environmental and wildlife protection, less pollution thanks to the composting practices of production waste, increased awareness of workers in the use of the waters and in the management of recyclable waste. Similarly certification is a guarantee of improvement of living conditions of the workers’ families due to the housing programs, drinking water supply, schooling and medical care.
The reportage was commisioned by National Geographic Italy.