Certifications were a product of a partnership between beverage supplier S&D and the Solidaridad Network, an organization that works towards sustainable production of commodities around the world.
“One of the focus points for Solidaridad and its partners is to create awareness among farmers and provide support to preserve forested areas within farms as 84% of the native forest is on privately owned land. The Misiones project includes the preservation of 475 hectares (1,175 acres) of it,” according to Solidaridad.
Located in the northeastern corner of the country in the Atlantic forest biome, the province of Misiones produces 95% of Argentina’s tea. Farmers in the area began growing tea in 1923 with seeds introduced from Russia, and a government ban on tea imports in 1951 spurred a dramatic increase in cultivation and first exports to Chile shortly thereafter.
Today, Argentina’s largest export market is for iced tea blends in the United States, where tea traders like S&D and Valmitran only buy certified crops. Over half of Argentina tea is certified, and the trend is growing.
Meeting the rigorous economic, social and environmental criteria of certification not only provides an advantage in international markets but also improves farm profits, working conditions and the health of land and water sources locally.
Breaking from the past
The initiative teaches farmers new sustainable farming techniques to change negative practices of the first European immigrant farmers who tilled the ground every year as they had back home, depleting the soil of important nutrients.
“They did not know how to take care of the land. That’s why we must now raise awareness about the characteristics of our soil and the importance of protecting it in order to maintain good fertility,” Arnoldo Holzmeister, one of the tea farmers who produce sustainable tea for S&D, told Solidaridad. His family arrived from Ukraine and Germany and farmed tobacco before switching to tea in the 1980s.
In Misiones, a combination of steep slopes and heavy rainfall make topsoil prone to water erosion. Monoculture crops like tea only increase vulnerability by destroying biodiversity and require fertilizers and pesticides to maintain soil integrity, which seep into the soil to pollute groundwater supplies or run off to alter ecosystems downstream.
Holzmeister and the other certified farmers now sow grass between tea plots as ground cover to stop erosion and prevent fertilizers from washing away. Soil analysis has also improved the accuracy of fertilization, and best practices in plucking and pruning and soil rejuvenation lead to better yields and tea quality.
“At the beginning of the certification process five years ago, Arnoldo averaged about eight tons per hectare per season,” says Solidaridad. “Producers who adopt good fertilization and land management plans can double those yields in five years.”