• Organic Tea Production at Scale

    Mozambique is the best-kept secret in the tea world, says Mohit Agarwal, Director of the Asian Tea Group, owners of Cha de Magoma, located in Gúruè, in Zambezia province. With 6,325 acres under tea, it is the world’s largest bio-organic tea garden and its Monte Metilile brand is a success story that demonstrates the many advantages of scale in producing great-tasting, high-quality, clean teas.

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    Mohit Agarwal, Managing Director, the Asian Tea Group, discusses the advantages of organic production at scale.

    Mohit Agarwal, managing director, The Asian Tea Group owners of Cha de Goma and Monte Metilile brand
    Mohit Agarwal, Director of the Asian Tea Group, owners of Cha de Magoma and the Monte Metilile brand

    Organic Tea Production at Scale

    Mohit Agarwal, Director of the Asian Tea Group, the company that owns Cha de Magoma and the Monte Metilile brand, is walking the world’s largest certified organic garden as we speak via Zoom. Pointing to the brilliant green tea bushes that stretch as far as the eye can see he explains that during 15 years of civil war from 1977 until 1992 Mozambique’s tea plantations were abandoned, allowing the land to rejuvenate and the bushes to expel plant protection chemicals and fertilizer. As our virtual tour continues, he describes the organic dairy herd, a forest of renewable eucalyptus used for fuel, and the three hydroelectric turbines being installed to provide green power for the plantation’s factories.

    Dan Bolton: Monte Metilile is certified organic by EU-Organic, USDA-NOP, and JAS. Here you specialize in the cultivation of organic whole leaf for orthodox processing as well as commercial grades of CTC. Will you talk about your commitment as stewards of the land and your regard for the ecosystem?

    Mohit Agarwal: The natural ecosystem that we have here is ideally suited to operate any plantation without chemicals or fertilizers. We have a lot of green cover, we have 6,000 hectares of land out of which 2,560 hectares are under tea. Do you see those Eucalyptus forests over there? A lot of this land is under forest cover. A lot of land is under citronella and Guatemala [grass] which stops soil erosion, and gives nitrogen to the soil, and is used to create bio compost.

    There’s a total ban on any chemicals or fertilizer. We do totally sustainable agriculture. Even the food for our people grown in-house is organic. We have our own dairy farm with more than 100 head of cattle which gives us cow dung and cow urine as fertilizers. Butter and milk are used by families to make Ghee.

    The entire ecosystem we built here at Monte Metilile is self-sustaining.

    Dan: This is a large-scale operation with more than 6,300 acres under tea will you explain to listeners the advantages of scaling up if you’re an organic farmer.

    Mohit: The whole idea was to make organic tea affordable and available to the global audience. MRL levels and tolerance in most countries have become stringent. Converting this entire site of 2,560 hectares of tea into organic has taken a lot of hard work. We managed to make the entire 2.2 or 2.5 million kilos of tea we produce available to consumers globally at a very reasonable, affordable price.

    “Farming organic at scale is applying the required size to solve the problem.”

    – Mohit Agarwal, Managing Director, the Asian Tea Group

    Dan: What will consumers discover when buying Mozambique tea?

    Mohit: There is flavor in the tea because of the climate. The temperatures in Mozambique are between 15 to 30 degrees. Because of the lower temperatures, there are inherent flavors. Most of our bushes are Chinery [Camellia sinensis-sinensis] out here, which the Portuguese planted.

    We can produce orthodox black tea and green teas, and, within green, we produce both steamed and roasted, CTC, and Orthodox. We also produce oolong teas and some specialty teas such as white teas. The tasting notes for these are simply magnificent. In the winter months, during what we call the first flush, the teas are light-bodied, muscatel flavored teas. Once the season comes in, we’ll get a little more body in the teas, but still, the brightness and the cups remain mellow.

    Mozambique is the best-kept secret in the tea world. This growing region has been hidden for centuries. Teas from here blend very well with the Sri Lankans or the Indian teas. Consumers have not been exposed to Mozambique as the tea was only being used in blends in conventional teas. Now we are exposing the full bouquet and it’s just delicious as a single-origin tea — fantastic for consumption without milk and sugar.

    Cha de Magoma offers the largest organic selection anybody could find in the world.

    Dan Bolton

    Cha de Magoma

    The Asian Tea Group is a tea producing and trading conglomerate with plantations in Assam and Mozambique and trading offices in Kolkata, Coimbatore, Mombasa, Colombo, and Fuzhou (China). The group handles more than 27 million kilos of teas across all their offices worldwide.

    Cha de Magoma is the largest private-sector employer in Mozambique, a country where labor is readily available as 70% of the workforce is employed in the agriculture sector which accounts for 25% of the economy. In 2020 Mozambique exported 3,203 metric tons of black tea, down from 3,447 MT sold in pre-pandemic 2019. The value of exports rose by 79% between 2017 and 2019, bringing exporters $4.7 million in sales, according to trade statistics compiled by Selina Wamucci. Mozambique ranks 62nd globally for black tea exports.

    The plantation is certified by Fair Trade International as well as Fair Trade USA. Since certification in April 2020, workers have collected substantial fair trade premiums from customers, funds that have been invested in welfare projects. The FT premium committee, for example, purchased an ambulance which is critical to ensure that people get health care when required and improved plumbing to provide clean drinking water. The next big project is the construction of new buildings for a school to ensure access to education for the children, according to Avinash Gupta, Director of Global Sales at the Asian Tea Group.

    Rainforest Alliance, Naturland, Non-GMO, and FSSC22000 certifications are a work in progress and are expected to be in place very soon, according to Gupta.

    Monte Metilile teas are exported to Europe, the UK, the US, China, and Japan, writes Gupta. Our primary trading partner in the US is QTrade Teas & Herbs and in Europe Wollenhaupt Tee GmbH and Ludwig H.O. Schroeder & Rudolph Hamann oHG. Retailers that stock Monte Metilile includes TeaGschwendner (Germany), Nothing But Tea (UK), and Upton Tea (US).

    In addition to tea, Cha de Magoma bottles natural spring water at a water packaging plant on the estate. The mineral water is marketed under the Monte Gúruè brand.

    The estate covers 6,000 hectares with 2,560 hectares under tea. Crops include citronella, banana, pineapple, vegetables, Guatemala grass, neem and sugarcane. Some are grown to make bio compost and some to feed a herd of dairy cattle. farms. Three Hydel green power units drive turbines generate a large portion of our power requirements. There is immense potential to expand the tea plantation and increase our production.
    The estate covers 6,000 hectares with 2,560 hectares under tea. Crops include citronella, banana, pineapple, vegetables, Guatemala grass, neem, and sugarcane. Some are grown to make bio compost and some to feed a herd of dairy cattle. farms. Three Hydel green power units drive turbines that generate a large portion of our power requirements. There is immense potential to expand the tea plantation and increase our production.


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  • Q|A John Snell

    A century ago, when the Portuguese first planted tea in Gurúè, Mozambique they found gentle, well-drained slopes of rich red volcanic soils at 1,500 to 3,600 feet elevation – identical to the altitude of India’s Darjeeling mid-tier gardens. The climate is cool and dry from May to September and hot and humid between October and April. Annual rainfall averages more than 3,000 millimeters. By 1950 production exceeded 20,000 metric tons a year and there was more land under tea in Mozambique than any country in Africa.

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    Procurement expert John Snell, founder of NM Tea B Consulting and owner of Ela’s Tea.

    Monte Metilile Tea Estate in Gurúè, Mozambique. Photo courtesy Asian Tea Group.

    Mozambique is God’s Country for Tea

    John Snell is principal at NM Tea B Consultancy, with expertise in sourcing that spans 35 years of procurement, supply chain management, and importing tea for major brands and private label suppliers. He also owns Ela’s Tea a specialty tea supplier and blender. John resides in Toronto, Canada.

    Dan Bolton: John why is Mozambique is such a great place to source tea?

    John Snell: Firstly, Mozambique’s latitude is a bonus; given the warming of the equatorial region, Gurúè is a more stable environment for tea and unlike much of Africa’s tea region, has true seasonality. With a true off-season, Gurúè offers an opportunity to produce true first, second, and autumnal flush specialty teas, something quite rare on the continent.

    Furthermore, Zambezia province sits on the Great Rift Valley whose high sides create a rain shed and whose depths collect groundwaters. This together with loamy soils and the seasonality makes Mozambique God’s country for tea.

    John Snell
    John Snell
    The Republic of Mozambique spans an area of 300,000 square miles with a population of 30 million. The estimated GDP is $41 billion with a per capita annual income of $1,331 (PPP)

    Dan: Will you describe the Portuguese era of tea production in Mozambique that began with plantings in the 1920s?

    John: Mozambique was a Portuguese colony for 700 years and chose this place above others, in her vast empire, as the most prodigious place to grow tea, despite being ever-present in South India and Sri Lanka. By 1950, Mozambique was the largest producer in Africa, only usurped by Kenya in the 1960s due to civil war.

    Dan: Mozambique tea production is resurging, its tea industry reborn, with organic cultivation and modern, more efficient processing techniques. What is the business opportunity in Mozambique?

    John: To be honest, during the civil war and thereafter, the tea produced in Mozambique was plain, weedy, poorly manufactured stuff, a price reducer for most normal tea chaps and if this had continued, I have no doubt that the business would be extinct by now. However, the civil war did the industry a favor, if you like, as it precluded Mozambique from an era when the rest of Africa geared up to support the teabag market of the UK, predominantly. When Assamica clones were created for productivity and strength rather than finesse. So, come their re-emergence, the bushes planted by the Portuguese, both Sinensis, and Assamica varieties are still there and have naturally cross-pollinated creating their own unique hybrids. There is now this astounding variety of mother bushes, which need testing and selecting, from which VP [vegetative propagation] can proliferate the types to fields.

    Dan Bolton


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  • Folklore Tea

    A recent development in tea in India has been the rise of new brands, many that have their roots in tea regions. Almost all of them seek to bridge producers and consumers. Most rely on the narrative that accompanies a product from its place of origin. For consumers, it’s in part vicarious living and a window to another world. This is as good as it gets for those who want to know who made their tea and where it comes from.

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    A conversation with Subhasish Borah, co-founder Folklore Tea, Assam

    Birinci Borah at Folklore Tea

    Exceptionally Local Teas that Connect with Consumers

    By Aravinda Anantharaman

    Emphasizing the local characteristics of Assam (instead of crafting tea to the expectations of export markets) shows respect for the land, customs, and artisanal craft, according to Folklore Tea co-founders Subhasish Borah, an urban planner, and Bidisha Das, a business management grad.

    Folklore Tea founders Bidisha Das, left, and Subhasish Borah

    Folklore Tea, based in Guwahati, actively works with farmers to become something more than a marketing platform for their teas, explains Borah, 30, and Das, 29. The couple run the Kohuwa Collective, a space that comes with a slow food café and tea room, with rooms for collaborative clothing and pottery workshops – concepts that seem to drive their work. They launched Folklore early in 2020 and, as a brand, are keen to carry the farmers’ stories.

    Folklore is anchored in the idea of storytelling and connecting to consumers intimately. Each tea acknowledges the farmer who grew it. Each tea is given a name, and a poem accompanies it.

    Each eco-friendly packet is numbered with a handwritten note addressing the recipient. And while this helps connect with the drinker, it’s not Folklore’s unique sales proposition. That lies in the experiments and work they do with their farmers.

    Folklore works with three small growers, Beeman Agarwalla, Birinsi Borah, and Tarun Gogoi, who collectively cultivate about three hectares (seven acres) of tea. They also run Prithivi, a farmer producer company that now includes 56 members with farms ranging from 0.2 to 3 hectares in size. All the growers are geographically located close to each other, making this a community enterprise. Beeman, Birinci, and Tarun have chosen organic farming and work with the other members to convert inorganic farms to organic. The process takes a long time, up to five years, during which farmers have to face a loss in yield and income. The association supports them by way of small scholarships for children and providing compost from a small vermicomposting unit.

    Beeman Agarwalla and Tarun Gogoi. Behind it all, there are real people – small tea growers whose innovation improves the craft and whose land stewardship protects the environment and the quality of your tea.

    “Behind it all, there are real people – small tea growers whose innovation improves the craft and whose land stewardship protects the environment and the quality of your tea. It is their passion that makes the tea taste better.” – Folklore Tea

    In Assam, small tea growers sell their green leaves to bought leaf factories that manufacture and sell tea. Most of these factories make CTC tea, which is bought and blended for the domestic market. Farmers adopting organic cultivation find no advantages in price as CTC factories are not always organic. Here, the tea is mixed, and the source and style of cultivation are lost. With no advantages to producing organic tea, the farmer has no incentive to stay the course. And this is something that Folklore is trying to address.

    Subhasish describes a proposed project for a mini-community factory that will be used to manufacture organic CTC with leaves sourced from their own farmer community. Currently, they have six small units where their tea is made. These units are not heavily equipped with machinery, and even the CTC is made using traditional wooden tools.

    Related: A Local Movement is Brewing in Assam

    “Right now, there are 56 growers who have joined us. So, collectively, whenever we will be able to set up the factory then we have a huge leaf bank. If we get this funding, which I’m not sure we will get, then of course we go for CTC as it will help not only these three people but all 56 families. That means almost 180 people will be benefited with this factory, it will be huge change in the village,” he said.

    “Whatever we can do in terms of packaging, design, or marketing will help them,” he said.

    Folklore’s association with Prithivi is a close and mutually beneficial one. Prithvi and its farmers brought knowledge of cultivars and tea making, along with market intelligence. Says Subhasish, “Most of the small tea growers with whom we are working started back in the early 1990s. They planted whatever tea bushes they could get from nearby tea gardens. The knowledge of cultivars was not very prominent at that time.”

    The Folklore team decided to study tea and brought knowledge and the willingness to experiment in tea making. Their experiments are with clones, leaf-to-bud ratio, and processing methods such as pan-roasting and naturally scenting tea. Only a small volume of made tea, not more than 300-350 kilos, is sold under the Folklore brand, primarily black and oolong whole leaf tea and some CTC.

    On average a small tea grower can pluck 6-7 kilos of unprocessed tea daily to make 3-4 kilos of finished tea.

    They are experimenting with rolling techniques to improve appearance, experimenting with blending to get the right flavor. And they have also taken on the immense challenge that oolong brings to tea making.

    Artisanal tea making is still has a niche market within India. Folklore seems conscious of this, taking a B2C approach for India and a B2B platform that caters to a global market, with customers in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. Since the scale is still small, the brand can sustain its relationship and customer base.

    As Subhasish says, there are two main challenges and opportunities of Assam’s tea industry: people who live in the tea areas of the state don’t know enough about loose leaf teas. The irony of producing one of the finest teas and yet sending them to faraway markets is the story across India’s tea-growing regions.

    “It’s very sad,” says Subhasish, “because people in their own region, especially in the villages and towns that are surrounded by tea gardens, the people don’t know much about loose leaf teas. It’s absurd that mainstream media is promoting the concept of green tea in Assam. Green teas have been grown here for years. It is supposed to be the other way around,” he says.

    “Paying 500 rupees for a kilo of tea is not a thing here,” he says. The economic status is not very high. Assam’s annual per capita income is INRs 119,155 ($1,700 compared to the all-India average of $2,100 per capita).

    “People collectively have less money so marketing loose leaf teas at a higher price is difficult. It takes a lot of effort to make loose leaf tea and if you’re selling it for let’s say INRs 300 to 400 rupees per kilo then it’s not giving me anything.

    “Consider that you can get a kilo of CTC for INRs 90 to 100 rupees ($1.20). In this scenario everyone is going to buy CTC but it’s weird. In Assam the culture of water-based tea is also very high but that water-based tea is made using CTC, not loose leaf teas.

    “Most of the growers face difficulties here, they don’t have the human resources or the financial resources to do marketing or packaging. Many people who start making teas go back to selling fresh leaves so that they don’t have to think about marketing again. And many people go back to inorganic because if they ultimately have to sell the leaves to bought leaf factories then then there is no point in maintaining organic because the factories are not certified to process organic tea,” he said.

    Due to financial limitations, few of our growers can afford the expense of the organic certification process, but the growers are far beyond it. They preserve ancient processing traditions and care deeply about their environment. They put their heart and soul into the teas they make naturally, says Subhasish.

    As much as the conversation is on branding and experimentation, ultimately, what will make a brand like Folklore work is its impact on the community. Already there are plans to set up a bamboo cottage on one of the tea farms open for experiential travel. Assam has a lot on offer, from textiles to food, and of course tea. “We want to bring people,” says Subhasish. We want to show the things that are going on here. That it’s not only tea, but a lot of associated cultural elements too.” He talks about the vision to make the area an open museum, where “the entire place can act as a museum, all the houses can act as a museum and the traditional tools which are used in the processing are living heritage.”

    Subhasish describes Folklore as a “passion project.” Perhaps that’s what Assam needs more of, passionate marketers who can join hands with farmers to create quality teas and find a market for them for the greater good of the community. And if it includes nudging local preferences towards better tea for their consumption, that’s a bonus. 

    Trouville Black Tea

    People have spun stories on my genesis.
    Was it a monk who discovered me? or
    Was it a king who dropped me in boiling water?
    Yet my origin is unknown
    Since then, I have grown
    And grew and grew some more
    Moving across spaces and borders
    A living chronicle of several cultures.
    I’m Trouville. I was found through pure chance.

    Subhasish Borah

    Birinci with his wife. Small holder farms ranges from a half an acre to seven acres.

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  • The Physics of Black Tea Film

    Have you ever noticed a colorful sheen on the surface of your tea? It appears brittle, breaking like ice floes in the Arctic as the tea cools. Researchers once thought it formed from waxy substances in leaves released during steeping. That is not the case. The delicate film is an interfacial interaction of air, tea polyphenols, and calcium carbonate ions in water. It does not form on white, yellow, green, or lightly processed oolong teas; it is only black tea. Soft water in many parts of the world prevents the film from forming. Is tea film a fleeting glimmer of color to enjoy or an unsightly scum that dissipates with a squeeze of lemon? Or does it? Caroline Giacomin, a student at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, joins us to explain the physics of tea film from a study she and colleague Peter Fischer recently published in the Physics of Fluids.

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    Physicist Caroline Giacomin at ETH Zürich

    Caroline Giacomin
    Caroline Giacomin explains the physics of black tea film

    What Causes the Film that Floats on Black Tea?

    Caroline Giacomin is a Ph.D. Student at ETH Zürich in the Department of Health Science and Technology. Her early research focused on optimizing a fluidized bed reactor within a CO2 direct air capture system. She previously worked on the rheology of sugars and most recently published her studies on the interfacial rheology of tea.

    Dan Bolton: Thank you so very much for joining us on the program. The topic is fascinating, and I see that it’s already getting some press attention. Let’s talk first about what made you curious about what some consider tea scum?

    Caroline Giacomin: I was working somewhere where the water was particularly hard, and one of my colleagues said, during our afternoon teatime, that he doesn’t drink tea anymore because he doesn’t like the stuff that is floating on top of it. He’s from Taiwan and had never seen tea scum before or tea film.

    I had never really thought much about it. Sometimes it was there. Sometimes it hadn’t been there.

    I went home and looked up how to get rid of the film for him. Turns out you can add lemon juice. Everyone on the message boards will say that it’s not a particularly scientific answer but obviously a traditional one.

    I didn’t really worry too much about that at the time. It wasn’t in my realm of research, but when I came here to start my Ph.D., our professor shared a list of ideas he thought might be interesting to investigate. We studied interfaces in this group, and on his list was tea interfaces. And I said, “Hey, I think that’s an interesting topic, and I’ve looked into it before.”

    So that’s how.

    Tea film in a cup of black tea
    Tea film in a cup of black tea

    Dan: What a lovely story. And I applaud you for thinking broadly. In science, it isn’t just narrow routes; it’s a wonderful opportunity to appreciate broader everyday applications in the world around us. So, how did you determine what caused the film?

    Caroline: A researcher from England in the 90s wrote a 14-part tea series, six or seven of which were about the tea film. And so I followed in his footsteps. He was studying the components of the tea film, and since we work with interfacial, I studied the strength of the film that forms on tea and with tea with additives like lemon juice, sugar, milk, etc. He did the composition now we’re studying physics instead of chemistry of it.

    I based the choice of add-ins on his research.

    Rheology is the study of weird fluids. Think about oobleck, the cornstarch and water mixture kids like to play with, or slime [Popularized on Nickelodeon]. Or you about measuring how shampoo or molten plastic flows. That’s rheology, and bicone interfacial rheometry means we’re dealing with the rheology at the surface between two phases.

    In our case, we’re dealing with liquid tea and air phases. Interfacial rheology uses a metal device with a disk that contacts the surface. Then, we carefully control the movement of that disk. A motor controls the movement, and a sensor detects exactly how much force the motor applies. That can tell us how brittle or how elastic the film is. When you know exactly how much force is needed to break the film, you can determine the depth of the film, the thickness of the film, and its elasticity.

    Dan: The thickness, then, varies with the amount of carbonate in the water, but it isn’t the critical factor. It’s the viscosity, the resistance to movement of the metal plate. How do you describe the film regarding its physical characteristics instead of its chemical components?

    Caroline: In our field, we use the phrase moduli. The elastic modulus describes the film’s elasticity, flexibility, and stretchiness. If you move the film a tiny bit, will it reform itself back into its original position? The loss modulus gives you the brittleness of the film.

    Dan: You’ve described the physics. The chemistry was previously described as tea polyphenols bonding with calcium carbonate ions at the surface to create a colorful sheen. Are there practical industrial applications for your research?

    Caroline: Conditions forming the strongest film, chemically hardened water, may be industrially useful for preferable shelf stability in packaged tea beverages and for emulsion stabilization of milk tea products. Conditions forming weakened films by adding citric acid may be useful for dried tea mixes. You are not likely to see the film in bottled tea because the bottles of iced tea you find at the store generally have citric acid or other preserving acids to extend the shelf life. But, those same acidic components cause many of the purported health benefits of tea to be dramatically reduced within the first 24 hours after bottling.

    If you had a pure tea product on the shelf in a bottle with no preservatives, no sugar, no citric acid, you would see little bits of the film sticking around at the top of the bottle, which most people would find extremely unpleasant — like you’ve got mold growing in your bottled beverage, and that wouldn’t be good.

    Also, it may be helpful to market teas with citrus in certain areas with very hard water. If you compare cups made with the same water, Earl Grey would have less of a film than pure black tea because it has bergamot, which is a citrus component.


    Dan: When making tea, should I be anti-scum? Should I dissolve the scum to get rid of it? Or should I appreciate it for what it is and not worry? Is tea scum an indication that I need to do something with my water? Based on your research, what practical guidelines do you suggest for making or enjoying better tea?

    Caroline: It depends on what you think is best for tea because the film, especially when you don’t add milk, the film is quite beautiful. (I’m a scientist describing tea scum as beautiful). But when you add milk to tea, it is often not visually pleasing. It can look gross. The film that appears after adding milk is different from the tea film. It’s made of very different components. This is why, in my research, we couldn’t measure the resistance of the milk film because there’s too much oil and fat in it to be measured by our device; it caused too much slipping, essentially. So those two films are different.

    Now that I know what it is, I like to see it. If you like the appearance, you don’t have to do anything to your daily practice.

    If you don’t like the film, make black tea with lemon, and you won’t see it. There will still be a physically strengthened film there, but you won’t be able to see it. If you are making tea to have milk, put the water through a filter. If you’re living in a place where the water isn’t particularly hard, that shouldn’t matter too much, and you won’t have much of a film anyway. That’s all that really matters at that point.

    There’s nothing harmful about it. The film doesn’t affect the flavor. It’s more visual than it is olfactory. It won’t affect the aroma and the taste of the tea. It’s just a quirk of drinking tea.

    Dan Bolton


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    Episode 35

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    Episode 35 | Researchers once thought tea film was due to waxy substances in leaves released during steeping. That is not the case. The delicate film is an interfacial interaction of air, tea polyphenols, and calcium carbonate ions in water.

  • Q|A Madhuri Nanda

    The Rainforest Alliance’s Director for South Asia, Dr. Madhuri Nanda explains that while sustainable farming ensures that agricultural practices do not negatively impact and degrade the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the surrounding ecosystem, the focus shifts in regenerative agriculture towards making the system better by adopting an ecosystem approach to enhance biodiversity and improving soil health through increased microbial activities that build resilient systems capable of withstanding adverse climatic scenarios.

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    Rainforest Alliance’s Director for South Asia, Dr. Madhuri Nanda

    Madhuri Nanda
    Madhuri Nanda, Director South Asia with the Rainforest Alliance

    Regenerative Agriculture: A Holistic Approach

    Madhuri Nanda, Ph.D., lives in New Delhi where she has served since January as Director South Asia with the Rainforest Alliance. A researcher with a doctorate in environmental science, she has diverse expertise in sustainable agriculture that includes resource management, nutrient management, vulnerability assessments, and climate change mitigation. She is former head of strategic development for KBS Certification Services and a graduate of Delhi University.

    Dan Bolton: Is there an accepted definition of regenerative agriculture?

    Madhuri Nanda: The term regenerative agriculture may be somehow new, as it was coined in 1980s by the Rodale Institute, then disappeared and surfaced again from 2015. However, we need to keep in mind that the concept behind is not recent. It draws from the principles of agroecology and holistic ecosystem management, both at the farm and landscape level. We, at Rainforest Alliance, believe this is part of a broader umbrella of climate-smart agriculture. Hence, our standard includes many regenerative agriculture principles and practices, in addition to other key dimensions of sustainability for instance, traceability, living conditions, child labor, forced labor, etc. Taking an agroecology and integrated system management approach, regenerative agriculture aims to increase biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services, and increase agroecosystem resilience thus leading to resilient livelihoods.

    Dan: How do best practices in regenerative agriculture differ from sustainable farming?

    Madhuri: Sustainable farming ensures that the agricultural practices do not negatively impact and degrade the environmental, social, and economic aspects of the surrounding ecosystem. This is a journey to move from sustainable agriculture to regenerative agriculture, which is more of a natural progression where the focus shifts towards making the system better by adopting an ecosystem approach to enhance biodiversity, improve soil health through increased microbial activities in the soil, thereby building resilient systems that can withstand the adverse climatic scenarios. Hence, regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach accounting for all ecosystem services. At Rainforest Alliance, over more than 34 years, our sustainability standard has incorporated many of the principles of regenerative agriculture, such as soil health management (including composting and mulching), integrated pest management, biodiversity conservation, agroforestry, and a focus on climate-smart practices.

    Dan: Will you discuss the Rainforest Alliance’s view of intensive farming and mono cropping common in tea?

    Madhuri: Some tea producers have already innovated over the years and started intercropping with spices to diversify their produce from the estates. Hence, intensive farming is moving towards diverse intercropping in some cases, also to support greater revenues, in addition to tea tourism. The need for shade trees due to extreme climate conditions is bringing a shift towards agroforestry, too. Thus, we find that farmers are moving away from intensive farming as they already are aware of the deteriorating soil health of their farms and are willing to explore alternative solutions. Adopting our certification program brings these regenerative agriculture practices for building resilient farming systems in today’s world of changing climate.

    Dan: What are the most pressing challenges facing the tea industry?

    Madhuri: The tea industry in India and globally is grappling with significant issues that challenge its survival. Changing climate with untimely and unprecedented flooding and droughts coupled with increased pest infestations have led to significant crop loss. To add to this, supply chain disruptions due to pandemic, absenteeism, shortage of labor, increase the cost of production and unfavorable market conditions have contributed to loss of business for many key players. Further, the plight of tea smallholders that now contribute more than 50% of tea production in India is beyond comprehension given the limited resources at their disposal. We find those players who already had sustainability ingrained in their business practices, for instance fair wages, better life quality of workers, sound agricultural practices in their estates are resilient and better able to sustain themselves.

    Dan Bolton


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