Healing a World in Crisis

May 07, 2020 1 Comment

Healing a World in Crisis

How can we heal the earth so it can support future generations?

"It is too simplistic to begin and end the conversation with a limited view of overpopulation. Better to ask: Why must people suffer so? And have we done all we can to alleviate the pain fo the earth and the pain of the human race?
It's important to reflect on what has happened historically in regard to agriculture and medicine. We have seen huge advances in modern medicine, but there is little value in the advancement of medicine if the number of sick people continues to increase. It is the same with modern agriculture. How can we congratulate oversells on the advances in modern agriculture, including greatly increased production, if the rate of the starvation, scarcity, depletion, and disease increase even more rapidly?"

-Masanobu Fukuoka

In ancient times in China, people had a very popular proverb: “Tea is a small leaf but it’s a big world, and you can see all different people and things through this tiny leaf.”
In ancient times, seeds were saved to be planted the following year. Nowadays, we don’t even know where our seeds come from, but they always grow very “well” and “fast”; some rare and ancient things have become the exclusive property of certain “special” people. This tiny leaf begs an important question of people today: how do we live sustainably? How do we enjoy a “slow” life? These are some things we may really need to think about.

According to Chinese law, land doesn’t belong to private citizens, but rather tothe country.”That means people don’t have the right to keep their own land. Nobody has landin China except for the government, so the government can decide who can use the landand what they can use it for. Currently, the government manages all farmland and tellsfarmers which crops to grow and which not to grow, and farmers have to do exactly whatthe government tells them to do. All crops harvested will then be organized by thegovernment. Big companies will help the government manage all of these things, andthose big companies pay salaries to farmers to grow what they need, and they teachfarmers how to grow and what to grow. Usually these companies pay very low salaries to farmers, so lots of young farmers leave their hometowns to work in the city. These migrant workers do all the lowliest jobs in the city, have the lowest standard of living, and are poorly educated, but despite that, they don’t want to go back to their home towns because their incomes in the city are still higher than what they could earn in their home towns.  Recently though, his situation has started to change. Young farmers have started to go back to their hometowns toresume farming because the government is allowing them to grow what they want.and they are allowed sell it to customers directly.

China’s agriculture industry is the most interesting industry influencing people’s dailylives. It changes more quickly than you can imagine. To give you an example, 60 yearsago, there were lots of people in the countryside and relatively few people in cities.Everybody lived near where they were born their entire lives, as the government didn’t allowpeople move about freely. This hindered China’s economic growth, but created a certaindegree of social order. Then 30 years ago, China started to open their doors to promoteeconomic growth, and with restored mobility, more and more people moved to the cities ineastern China to do business. At that time, you could get rich easily doing almost any typeof business, but with its focus on the economy, the government neglected people’seducations. So now if you come to China, you can see many rich Chinese, but the level ofeducation is still quite low.

In Yunnan Province, there is a famous tea village called Ban Zhang (班章). Thetea farmers were incredibly poor and nobody even knew there was a village therewith people growing tea until about 2001. Then the village started getting more and more popular, and people started to realize this village had high quality tea, but unfortunately,   most of the people who went there were not really there for tasting high quality tea – they were just trying to make this village’s tea popular and expensive  so they could sell it for a higher profit. The tea farmers of the villagegot rich almost overnight. They never thought they could get so rich from just pickingtea leaves and selling it. Now if you go to this village, most of the tea farmers thereare millionaires.

However, this changed not only the contents of the tea farmers’ wallets, but also the environment. The tea trees were grown hundreds of years ago by these tea farmers’ ancestors. Because the tea trees were grown in a natural environment and were notover-picked, the trees survived until today – but now, too many people want thisvillage’s tea, and the tea farmers shortsightedly over-pick the leaves for quick money.Roads to the village have been developed, and every spring, traffic to the villageintensifies. The roads destroy the forest, cars pollute the environment, and people buythe tea only to turn it around and sell it to others for a profit. The tea farmers losepatience with environmental issues and only focus on picking tea leaves. Some of therich farmers don’t even want to send their kids to school, because“learning at schoolcan’t earn you even one dollar, but you can get so rich picking tea leaves there’s noneed study. [Studying] is a waste of time.” Some tea farmers are getting very lazy.

The only thing they do is pick tea leaves. In their free time, they waste away the daysgetting drunk, gambling, and some of them even use drugs.

Is being a part of the global tea industry a good thing or bad thing for this village? I think it’s a disaster for these people. It is destroying the tea farmers’ essentially pure nature, and the money is laying waste to their souls. This is not onlyhappening in this village. It is happening all over the China right now.More and more people are becoming wealthy, but it is their wallets thatare getting rich, not their souls.

As a Chinese citizen, I love my country, and that is why it is so sad to see all of these terrible things happening. But we are all connected. These tea farmers are destroying themselves, and at the same time they are destroying their future and the future of tea. If people only come to the village to grab a bag of tea then leave, and they think that giving their money to the tea farmer is fair trade, then they are absolutely wrong! The people who are buying and drinking tea are also responsible forthis disaster, as are the tea companies and the government. Anyone who corrupts thespirit of tea by treating it as a money machine will continue to perpetuate this disasterall over the world. In fact, tea is just a microcosm of what is happening in our foodchain all over the world nowadays. GMO foods, dangerous drugs, and lots of otherthings are turning us down a dangerous path.

Being Chinese, I do feel that lots of Chinese are facing a certain emptiness ofspirit, which is unnecessary. But we cannot only blame these people. They don’tnecessarily know what is happening. They just felt they could get rich quick, butthey failed to see the hidden costs. The world, including you and me, all conspiredto fool them.The only way these people can be saved is to help them realize thattraditional culture, knowledge, a peaceful heart, and faith in nature are the only waysto fill their empty hearts. But how can we help them realize this?

I think it all depends on how you choose and buy your teas!

Again, this story is not only happening in this village, nor is it only happening in China – it’s actually happening everywhere in the world. Because some of tea farmers are getting so rich, they have become very cold people who don’t care about friendship, don’t appreciate nature, and don’t appreciate knowledge. If you don’t have money, they don’t even want to talk to you. When I visited another tea country – Thailand, we witnessed some similarly interesting stories playing out there, too.

Thailand borders Yunnan Province in China. In the Thai highlands on Doi Mae Salong Mountain of the Daen Lao Range, in the Mae Fa Luang District, Chiang Rai Province – the northernmost province of Thailand – there is a very beautiful place called Mae Salong that produces tea. The area has an alpine-like landscape andclimate, it is known for its hill tribe villages, tea plantations, and cherry blossoms,and has a very interesting history.

Cash crops, especially tea, have now replaced the growing of opium poppies,and Mae Salong today is a tourist attraction known as “Little Switzerland.” When I first arrived here, I was giving some of the tea people there training on tea. Westayed at the most amazing tea hotel I have ever seen, and the owner of this hotelwas a young lady and her family. Her family also sold tea at the hotel. They were  very nice people and their ancestors were actually from Yunnan, so they spoke fluent Mandarin in the Yunnan dialect, which made my conversation with them much easier. This place surprised me a lot because they not only grew tea, but they also have ancient tea trees over 300 years old, which is uncommon to see in another tea country. The most popular tea produced there is oolong. All people there make oolong tea, which is technically a Taiwanese tea. The Taiwanese have a strong influence in this place. I loved it there because the environment is much better than lots of tea areas in China.

But soon, I started to suspect that something was not quite right. Right outside of my hotel window was an expanse of tea plantations. It looks so green and so beautiful that when I woke up at the hotel my first morning, I was excited to walk  to the balcony to take in the beautiful view, but as soon as I took a deep breath, I smelled the heavy scent of Rogor, which is a very common chemical effective for controlling fruit flies, but is no longer allowed for widespread use in most countries. Long term effects of using this chemical can include depression, burning of hand sand feet, difficulty walking, vision impairment, and more. The reason I knew it was Rogor was because the Chinese also use this chemical everywhere in China, even in public parks. As soon as I smelled it I knew they were using Rogor, and I’m surethey were using other chemicals, as well.

So I immediately realized this terrible thing is happening all over the world.

After a week of tea training for those tea lovers, we travelled all over this area, sawhow they picked ancient tea tree leaves, how they store the teas, and how they usemachines to produce the teas, and I realized that the problems in China are foundeverywhere.

While we were giving people the training, there was an old man from HongKong who had been following our whole training from the beginning. In the beginning I was not sure who he was, but at the end of the training, he told me he was a friend of the family that owned the hotel, and was also the person they consulted to help them improve their business.

He told me he liked my tea training very much, and that he had never knownanyone who could explain tea as well as I could. He told me, “You can bring more people to this hotel for training, and we can do business together!” He was so excited and asked me to stay in Thailand longer. I told him that we can do business, but before that, people have to fix some things here that I could see are not right:

I smelled the chemicals they were using. They have big tea plantations here and I could tell some of the forest had been cut down to be turned into tea plantations. People were storing tea in very dirty and dark facilities, and most of teas were full of mold and worms….. While I was talking I saw his face turn very long and unhappy. After that conversation, this hotel didn’t treat us as well as at the beginning, all because this Hong Kong guy was their hotshot consultant.

One of the people who joined my training was actually a tea farmer in Thailand, but she was not from Mae Salong. After my training finished, she told me we helped her a lot in opening new avenues for growing tea. She told me that before she joined my training, she was told by someone from Taiwan that she should start to grow a normal, cultivated tea breed the same as other tea farmers. There was no need use tea seeds to grow it, as that way was too slow. As soon as she started growing it, the party in Taiwan would teach her how to use chemicals,how to grow tea faster, and how to produce Taiwan’s oolong tea. This Taiwanese person also promised to buy her teas and sell it in Taiwan as a Taiwanese oolong. This girl wasn’t sure if she should do what this Taiwanese person was telling her to do. After my training, she told me I helped her a lot, as now she understands what it means to grow tea sustainably. I was almost in tears when she said that, because I know it’s very difficult to educate tea farmers to understand how important it is that  they grow tea the correct way, and it’s also difficult to persuade people to use a sustainable method to grow tea. Lots of people only focus on short-term interests just like the Hong Kong guy, and I’m sure there are tons of other tea farmers who have been influenced by these types of Taiwanese or Hong Kong or other such people.

If none of us have education or morals and don’t care what we leave behind for the next generation, I’m sure the end of world won’t come too long after us.

Today, when I'm reading Fukuoka's book again, we have same exactly view for true natural agriculture in nature:

"Plants, people, butterflies, and dragonflies appear to be separate, individual living things, yet each is an equal and important participant in nature. They share the same mind and life spirit. They form a single living organism. To speak of creatures as beneficial insects, harmful insects, pathogenic bacteria, or troublesome birds is like saying the right hand is good and the left hand is bad. Nature is an endless cycle, in which all things participate in the same dance of life and death, living together and dying together."

- Shana Zhang

Read More at The Wild Truth of Tea

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1 Response

Victor Leung
Victor Leung

May 23, 2020

Very interesting article. “One step forward two steps back” in my humble opinion. Not only tea cultivation is being destroyed on earth but the ocean, forest, mountain along with the animals. Money is not the root of all evil if it is used in a proper way but it is very easy to be sucked with greed just like everyone else. Therefore one needs to be rooted with people like you so that it can continue the true tea spirit. It’s very sad in a way but there are still good people in the world that benefit mankind.

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