Sanjay Bansal is the owner of a tea plantation in Darjeeling and has been a supplier to Simon Lévelt for more than 25 years. Hans Levelt, the former managing director of Simon Lévelt, and Sanjay Bansal met multiple times, in both Amsterdam and Darjeeling. They realised they had a lot in common, such as their shared concern for the welfare of our planet and its inhabitants.
From organic to biodynamic
Soil erosion is a common issue in Darjeeling, sometimes displacing large tracts of land. This problem is partially due to climate change, which causes even wetter monsoons and dryer winters than previously. On Sanjay’s Ambootia plantation, herbs and grasses with long root systems are planted around the tea bushes to help prevent the upper layer of soil from being washed away. These ground cover plants and the trees for shadow help retain the soil during heavy rainfall. The fertiliser used consists of dung from cows that are kept by the employees.
Sanjay firmly believes in the merits of biodynamic agriculture: “In order to produce healthy, nutritious products you have to work with nature, rather than trying to take what you need on the short term for a quick profit without giving anything back. This method is largely based on ancient Indian farming principles and incorporates its influences. It gives me great pride that more than 14% of all Darjeeling tea plantations apply biodynamic methods and more than half are organic. These percentages are higher than anywhere else in the world.”
Sanjay also dedicated himself to obtaining a protected designation of origin for Darjeeling tea, specifically for black Darjeeling tea. Sanjay: “In September 2007 we applied for the certification and in 2011 we were registered. Currently we are in a transition period, but from November of 2016, only tea that was actually produced in Darjeeling can be called Darjeeling tea.” There were a lot of ‘blends’ on the market that consisted of a mixture of Darjeeling tea and tea of other origins. As of November 2016, this is no longer allowed. Sanjay does not expect that this will cause a shortage of Darjeeling tea, but he does think it will become more exclusive. In order to keep their licence to produce Darjeeling tea, the 78 plantations in Darjeeling will have to comply with certain conditions; Sanjay does not expect that all will manage to do so.
Picking high-quality tea is a specialised job. In this mountainous region, it is a manual process because so far, no machines have been developed that are able to deal with the rugged terrain, wet climate and the delicate technique of picking tea. There is a risk that in the future it will be difficult to find sufficient tea pickers, as there are better paid jobs in the towns and cities. Sanjay, however, is not worried about this: “My employees are my friends. They enable me to make money. In the years to come, the tea pickers’ wages will go up, and there will be sufficient people eager to do the work if you take good care of them in general. We can offer the children of the employees a place in the school on the plantation; in addition to a good income, education and health are very important!”