14 March 2019 – CABI scientists have revealed that India’s tea – which accounts for around 27 percent of the world’s tea production – could be protected from devastating crop pests with more environmentally friendly and sustainable biological controls rather than an over reliance on pesticides.
As part of research funded by Unilever and working with partners including the Tea Research Association (TRA) and The United Planters’ Association of Southern India, the researchers believe that ecological approaches to pest management have the potential to replace conventional pest management practices as part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan.
The study showed that in all locations tested, despite the absence of pesticides, pest populations were kept at manageable levels. However, while this suggests that ecological approaches have the potential to replace conventional pest management practices, the costs of some of the interventions, namely neem and certain biopesticides, are considerably higher with no trade-offs from yield.
India is the second largest producer of tea globally and it is the country’s primary beverage with 85 percent of all households consuming it. The nation also accounts for 12-13 percent of world tea exports. However, tea crops are hosts for a variety of pests and diseases which can cause annual yield losses ranging from 5 to 55 percent.
The scientists reviewed existing crop protection practices and limitations to current techniques to develop a ‘road map’, to steer the industry towards the use of less pesticides. Three tea gardens in different zones of Assam, and two in South India were focused on to validate and compare different ecological practices with ‘business as usual’ methods employed.
In all locations, despite the absence of pesticides, pest populations were kept at manageable levels, largely comparable with ‘business as usual’ practices. But the results do raise some challenges in relation to yield and costs where ecological practices have been adopted.
Suz Neave, Project Manager at CABI, said, ‘The production and trade of tea has the potential to be a powerful engine for economic growth, poverty alleviation and food security in India but often harnessing this power can be difficult.
‘The project has taken the first step steps to validate the adoption of IPM and ecological practices in tea as well as highlighting that estate management and attitude play a key role in the implementation of a strategy to reduce pesticides.’
Alan Palmer, Global Vice President Research and Development, Tea, at Unilever, said, ‘Unilever recognizes the importance of reducing the use of pesticides in the tea industry, and supports the ongoing research by CABI and partners to invest in and scale up ecological pest management practices.’
In February 2016, as part of the project, CABI in South Asia and the Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI) in India organized a workshop looking at sustainable tea production through ecological farming practices and non-conventional methods for tea growing. The event was attended by over 250 planters across the state of Assam and experts from academia and industry.
Find out more about how CABI is working with Unilever and partners to promote sustainable tea production in India from the project page.
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