Fair Trade Tea: Promoting a Healthier Environment

  • October 31, 2011

Fair Trade aims to lift farmers out of poverty around the globe. But beyond improving the living and working conditions of farmers, it also plays an important role in elevating and maintaining the health of the environment for Fair Trade farms and estates. Through specific standards required for certification, encouragement for farms to transition to organic methods, and community development premiums applied to programs that have positive environmental impacts, the Fair Trade certification program helps develop and sustain healthy ecosystems.

Fair Trade Standards

One of the important ways Fair Trade certification has a positive environmental impact is through its requirements for environmentally responsible criteria for production conditions on Fair Trade farms. For instance, producers must work to protect the natural environment of their gardens and properly manage water usage and waste. Farms and gardens are prohibited from using harmful agricultural chemicals and genetically modified organisms in production. Additionally, minimizing energy use is also encouraged, especially that of non-renewable sources. The higher prices set by Fair Trade also ensure that farmers aren’t struggling to make a living, which reduces the deforestation, erosion, and use of pollutants that can result from impoverished living situations. Through all of these standards, long-term sustainability becomes a working goal instead of only an ideal.

Fair Trade & Organics

Though Fair Trade certification doesn’t require farms to be organic, it certainly encourages producers to head in that direction. Because harmful chemicals and genetically modified organisms are prohibited, gardens have already taken an important first step in becoming organic. Fair Trade also sets higher prices for organic items, another incentive for farms to convert entirely to organic agriculture. Many Fair Trade gardens that are already organic have even taken it one step further through the adoption of biodynamic practices, as utilized in the Oothu Singampatti Tea Garden in India and the Greenfield Tea Estate in Sri Lanka.



Community Development Premiums

Fair Trade community development premiums play an important role in reinforcing sustainable and organic farming techniques as well. The Da Zhang Shan Tea Garden Cooperative in China has implemented training programs funded by Fair Trade premiums to develop knowledge of organic agriculture among workers. The group is dedicated to expanding its membership, improving working conditions and economic efficiency, and spreading knowledge of organic agriculture and environmental sustainability.

In addition to organic efforts, Fair Trade premiums are often used for community improvements that have positive environmental impacts. The Sewpur Tea Estate workers in Assam have used premiums to purchase gas and pressure cookers instead of using firewood, lessoning smoke pollution, deforestation, and respiratory illness. Chamong Tee Exports, which has Fair Trade tea estates in Assam and Darjeeling, has harnessed natural water resources to produce hydroelectric power. Petroleum gas has also been implemented in these estates to limit the need for firewood and deforestation.

Healthy environmental practices not only encourage tea and other commodities to thrive on Fair Trade farms, but also the surrounding ecosystem and the people that live on and work the land. The Fair Trade community development premiums that producers receive allow them to invest soundly in environmental sustainability, knowing that they’ll see a return on their efforts. By maintaining the health of the land’s ecosystem, Fair Trade farmers ensure a richer and brighter future for themselves and their families.

This post originally appeared as a guest blog for Fair Trade Month on the Fair Trade USA blog on 10.27.11.

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