Part 2 of 2 of “What’s the Difference Between Fair Trade, Sustainable and Organic?” >> Page 1 Here
C: If you’re using practices that end up contaminating the end product with dangerous toxic chemicals, the end product is going to taste bad, so that’s not going to fly.
NM: Ultimately you’re right, but if you had — God forbid — tea contaminated with mercury you wouldn’t taste it, and similarly, many of the (toxic) ways that (farmers) fertilize don’t have an effect on taste.
C: My understanding, gained through what I’ve been told in a number of places, is that some of the small estates and small individual tea farms in China, as one example, are growing their tea organically partly because they can’t afford expensive chemical fertilizers, so they’re using traditional agriculture, which is, by definition organic, but they won’t ever be able to say that their tea is organically produced even though it is.
NM: Yes, well they certainly won’t be certified, so they can’t be officially organic. And yet, for thousands and thousands of years they’ve been organic … and balanced organic. They’re sustainable and organic, because they recycle everything back to the land.
C: Traditionally, sustainable agriculture is what works. If you’re a small farmer you need to create a system of growing that you can keep going and recycling. What would you say the difference is between sustainable farming versus organic and fair-trade? I mean, I understand what the difference is as expressed in the marketing language, but more specifically …
NM: Well, sustainable really means that you’re not using things up. Just as with organics, there are sustainability purists who say you should never use anything that can’t be replaced. And there are the sustainable realists who say we should at least eke out the non-renewable resources where we can, and wherever we can we’ll use renewable fuels, and if it’s not renewable we’ll go very carefully how we use it and how much of it we use. You have to draw that distinction. My camp is the realistic sustainability one.
C: You can’t set up restrictions that are so harsh that it makes it impossible to produce anything.
NM: People do.
C: I know they do, but they shouldn’t because ultimately it won’t work.
NM: I’ll give you an example of the dilemma that you might get into. I was working with a new tea grower in Hawaii — not one of the small guys that we’ve seen at the Expo, but someone who wanted to do it on a hundred-acre scale, 200-acre scale. He wanted to be organic, said the production must be organic. He was a berry farmer on the mainland, and he always had an organic farm, and he wanted to have an organic tea farm. So we started off and sourced his tea and his raw materials from Africa and got it planted, and his soil was not acid enough, which is unusual for Hawaii, but this was an old sugar-cane plantation and they’d put down a lot of chalk, to benefit the sugar cane. This was 20 years ago, but it was still there. The normal way that you’d acidify soil for tea is to put sulfur on it. Sulfur is recognized by the organic people; they’re happy with it. So he goes off to his supplier and when he sees the sulfur that he’s offered, he says, “where does it come from?” and they say it’s a by-product of the petrochemical industry, and he throws his hands up in horror! So we look and see what else we can get. It’s possible to get sulfur which is rock sulfur, mined sulfur. The dilemma is, would you rape the countryside with big holes, ripping out rock sulfur, or would you use a by-product of the petrochemical industry that has to go somewhere, and is at least greening the petrochemical industry at least a little bit?
C: Why would the organic regulations say that you couldn’t use petro-chemical by-products?
NM: the regulations don’t say that you shouldn’t, but they would prefer that you use the natural sulfur.
C: “Organic” meaning that you take it from the earth regardless of consequences? That makes no sense.
NM: No it doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s why I say that sustainability and organic should be done with some degree of realism.
C: None of the national or international organizations that are promoting organic farming are really thinking in terms of sustainability, are they? I prefer not to make such a broad statement, but it seems like the focus is on something that’s almost more conceptual than practical.
NM: Absolutely, yeah that is the focus, because it’s all mediated in glass palaces in Europe or America and the people there don’t get out in the field a lot, and don’t see the issues directly and they have a set of ethics that they want to plant.
C: I could tell that, just listening to the people in the panel discussion talk about it. They haven’t all stood in a tea field. The way some of them were talking about the agriculture, they didn’t really understand how it worked. That distance from agriculture and the people directly involved in it also manifests into a somewhat condescending tone among some of the organizations promoting the organic, fair-trade and sustainability agendas. Even the representative from Utz was talking about teaching the farmers like they were five-year-olds and their organization was going to come in and teach them the right way to do things.
NM: Absolutely right. David Walker, President of Walker Tea, LLC, was telling someone a couple of days ago about how he represents a couple of coffee growers in Kenya and helps them get product to market. He was saying that some of these USAID people will come over and say to the Kenyans, “we’re going to teach you how to grow coffee the way the Americans like it.” [laughs] He took one of these coffee industry advisors aside, put his hand on his shoulder and said “these people have been growing coffee for three or four hundred years. They know how to grow coffee. You tell them how you want it. They can do it, but don’t go telling them that you’re going to teach them, because you are not.” So there’s a lot of that element of “experts who know best.”
C: Yes, it can be really preachy. The attitude about it is very removed from the reality of actual workers and actual plantation owners and actual growers, and for that matter, from the science of it, how things work. Although, I will say that the Rainforest Alliance was a little less like that because they seem like they’re a little bit more direct about how they get things done. >> Read Full Article