Fair trade is a well-known social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries like India to make
better trading conditions and promote sustainability. Their work and philosophy
represent a hope for the rural communities in India characterized by a high
suicide rate. India agricultural faces several problems, among other: global warming, poorly maintained irrigation
systems, farmers’ access to markets hampered by poor roads and inadequate
returns to Indian farmers.
The SAP team has been asked to improve the communication strategy
for Fair Trade India down to the rural communities. The team is composed by
Thomas, Mark and Claudia. They are basically from all corners of the word.
Thomas is from USA but grown up in India. Mark lives in France but originally
from USA while Claudia is Colombian. With their language mix we are sure that their communication project will
be a success.
The following story not only shows how fair trade works
but it is a fantastic example how market, ecology and rural development can
More than 30 years ago, Rajah Banerjee finished his studies in London and returned to the family tea
estate in Darjeeling. Located at 1,200 metres (5,000 feet) in the Himalayan
foothills of West Bengal, Makaibari Tea Estate was one of dozens producing Darjeeling
tea, the prized ‘champagne of teas’.
As Rajah Banerjee reacquainted himself with the area, he had the sudden
realization that the dense tea monoculture was neither environmentally,
economically or socially sustainable. Tea production in Darjeeling has declined
in the last decade as plantations have closed or been abandoned because of low
auction prices. In the battle to cut costs, the fertility of the naturally thin
soil has been reduced by overuse of chemicals or washed away by landslides.
Gaping scars have appeared on the upper slopes, gradually denuded of the native
forests that absorbed the worst effects of the monsoon rains, the trees cut for
firewood or logged, often illegally, for short-term profit.
But Makaibari tells a wonderfully different story, living proof that sustainable agriculture can
succeed commercially and benefit the environment and local communities. Gone
are the regimented lines of tea bushes, instead the tea grows amid fruit and
bamboo, herbs and clover, the soil is dark and soft, fed with the organic
compost prepared on the estate.
“Our decision for organic growth was made out of desperation”, says Mr
Banerjee. “All over this region, nature was destroyed, trees were cut down, we
had a huge problem with erosion and many animals died due to the insecticides.
We were forced to change something.”
Rajah Banerjee’s pioneering life’s work has been to convert the estate to
permaculture. Tea bushes have been integrated into the six tiers of plants that
form a biodynamic ecosystem that enriches the health of the soil, checks
erosion and encourages a wealth of birds, butterflies and insects. The
different levels of tree cover help shade delicate tea leaves from the
scorching sun as well as retaining moisture; some of the grasses and herbs also
have medicinal or insect-repellent properties; leguminous plants increase the
soil’s nitrogen content and organic matter from dead leaves and forest litter
improve its fertility. Tea is only grown on a quarter of Makaibari’s 1,000
hectares. More than half remains subtropical forest, home to two Bengal tigers,
leopards, barking deer and hornbill.
This integrated philosophy encompasses all aspects of estate life. Most of the office staff are
members of families who work on the estate and seven of the 25 field
supervisors are female – unheard of in this part of the world. Tea sold to the
Fairtrade market includes a premium for social development projects that is
administered by the Joint Body. This committee comprises management and elected
worker representatives of which seven of the twelve are women. The estate has
initiated many social projects and the Fairtrade premium is used to support
these or start new ones. Electricity has been brought to the estate’s seven
villages, their 430 households and 1,560 residents. Six women workers have been
trained in basic midwifery and health education. Interest-free educational and
medical loans are available.
The Joint Body operates a low-interest revolving loan fund for workers to
install flushing toilets, extend their distinctive four-room houses or set up
small businesses. Some workers have taken out loans to purchase chickens, goats
or cattle for eggs, meat and milk – organic cow’s milk fetches high prices in
nearby Kurseong town. But the cattle also provide other benefits. Many workers
have installed LPG cookers that are fuelled by methane produced in biogas
plants from cow dung. Excess manure is added to the compost heap which all
families maintain and which the estate purchases as organic fertiliser for the
“Fairtrade affects many people here”, says Rajah Banerjee. “Makaibari and
Fairtrade share a common vision.”
The tea workers are full of ambitious ideas to improve their community – a computer centre for their
children, more scholarships, eco-tourism, an expensive pump that will ensure
year-round piped water. If Makaibari can increase the 15% of production it
sells to the Fairtrade market, these dreams could become reality.
As global tea sales have been in decline for a number of years, the Joint Body
decided to investigate ways to diversify their income generating activities.
After long discussions, they decided in 2006 to invest in an eco-tourism
venture, an innovative and ambitious project which aims to bring prosperity to
the whole community.
Makaibari has thousands of visitors a year and many want to stay
to experience the peace and tranquillity of the community or study the
bio-dynamic techniques used in the fields.
The construction of an eco lodge guesthouse with fourteen double rooms at the
best location is nearing completion. The next phase envisages the building of
additional accommodation in each household in the seven villages. A trial at
Koilapani village has been very successful. Each house will be equipped to host
two visitors and share meals as well as their day-to-day lifestyle, for a small
charge of around Rs 400 ($10.00) a day. The guest house will provide a more
up-market package including a double room and three meals for around Rs 1,000
*Thank you to Thomas,Mark and Claudia