Organic Ceylon tea farmers in Sri Lanka are leaving mono-culture agriculture as are small farmers in the US. Having a uniform crop, as is now documented, increases both disease and economic risk. Organic tea production, also called Poly-culture Agriculture, acknowledges that the soil is its own ecosystem and when healthy, the soil and the plant can fend off drought, pathogens and pests lowering the use of synthetic pesticides. Failed plantation style tea farms are being converted to poly-culture farms called “Forest Gardens” using a seven canopy layer of plantings to mimic the original forest ecosystem. Dense forest is returning.
The poly-culture system for organic tea production, as in nature, is adaptive when used with crop rotation. Native trees hold back soil and act as a windbreak as do pepper and cinnamon plants and Goroka trees. These plants are also cash crops.
Tea bushes dominate the farms and continue to provide the majority of revenue, but farmers are experimenting with various cash plants. Crops include coffee, cloves, pepper vines, vanilla, ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, and citronella. Medicinal herbs include the neem tree, known as 'the village pharmacy' because of its many healing properties and whose extracts are made into a non-toxic insecticide. Growing organic Ceylon tea organically is profitable, but the farmer must create other income streams to diversity the inherent biological and economic risks.
Other plants attract or repel particular insects; trees and shrubs such as eretrina and vativera provide shade from the sun and protection from rain, or are planted as low hedges to prevent soil erosion. Chillies, beans, tomatoes and brinjal (aubergine) are among the vegetables grown for home consumption and for sale at local markets.
The certification process for organic tea production is long and can cause financial hardship. However, once the farm is certified, profitability increases as the consumer is willing to pay more for a fully traceable sustainable more nutritious food product. Conventional wisdom is also difficult to change in Sri Lanka as we see in the United States.
The overall methods to grow and process the agriculture product are approved and verified. The methods try to achieve profitability for the farmer, measurability of purity and nutrition of the product as described and foster an understanding that measurable, sustainable practices promote the well-being of the local environment.
Organic Ceylon tea farm certification is strenuous, mentally, physically and economically. The National Organic Program Standards are quite extensive. Food Processors must also undergo certification. Here we call both Producers.