I recently had the pleasure of travelling with Martin Gibson, Stewardship Director, CropLife Asia, on a work trip to Assam. We were visiting tea estates to get an understanding of the local challenges tea producers face in terms of agricultural pests, and the measures that can be applied to successfully mitigate them.

It’s been a reality for a number of years that pests and diseases are a problem in Assam, and it’s widely reported that incidences have been on the increase in the last decade, which is mainly attributed to the changing weather patters that are being experienced the world over. With the climate scenario predicted to get worse, it is imperative that we work with partner organisations like CropLife, and local tea producers and organisations that have a good understanding of the issues, so that we can help producers to be better prepared.

Martin Gibson Stewardship Director CropLife checking a workers PPEIn order to understand different approaches to tackling pests Martin and I travelled to three estates. Of the three one was organic and another was Rainforest Alliance certified, and this gave us the opportunity to see how producers have adapted their practices to meet strict environmental standards, while continuing to successfully abate such problems. While agrochemicals are still used, they’re part of a wider integrated pest management (IPM) programme. IPM uses more natural approaches, and as well as environmental benefits there are also economic ones for the producer too.

In order for us to fully appreciate the practices being employed, Martin interviewed estate management and workers on the range of IPM that they use. He also observed worker competencies in handling, mixing and spraying agrochemicals, estate storage facilities, range of protective clothing available to workers, and spraying records etc.

Armed with this information, and with materials from our ‘sister’ projects in China and Sri Lanka, both Diya and I will work with Martin to develop course content for training workshops commencing in 2013.

Martin Gibson Director CropLife checking agrochemicalsThis was a fascinating trip for me. I visit producers in Assam all the time but it was excellent to spend time focused on one issue with such an expert. After my time with Martin, I have a deeper understanding of the complexity of the problems that Assam producers face. However, I’m also excited about the programme because we can potentially change mind-sets and approaches to tackling pest problems, while making tea estates safer for workers, the environment and surrounding communities. I’m looking forward to reporting again on this project in 2013.