Our suppliers: Visit to our suppliers in India

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Matt Richards, our Production & Standards Coordinator, has recently returned from spending two weeks in India meeting with some of our suppliers. You can learn more about his trip and the time he spends building collaborative relationships with our suppliers, in his own words here.

I have recently returned from India, visiting suppliers of turmeric, ginger, tulsi, cinnamon, psyllium and many other Indian herbs that we buy. Supplier visits to India are fascinating, vibrant and sometimes frustrating but always a vital part of building relationships with suppliers and seeing how things really work right down to the farms. I saw suppliers from Punjab to Tamil Nadu, from Bangalore to Kerala, each with their unique conditions and cultures.
One thing that quickly became a theme was that organic really works. There are definitely challenges that organic farming presents – building soil fertility, controlling ‘weeds’, increased labour – but these things can actually be positives if seen in a holistic way, with far reaching social and environmental benefits as part of the system. An example to demonstrate: I have often heard people say about organic ‘labour costs are too high as you can’t just kill the weeds off with chemicals, it needs lots of labour’. That is true, labour costs will be higher with some crops, but I met many farmers in Kerala who were happy to tell me that because of the premium they were getting for organic, they were able to take those costs and provide much needed rural work to families in their village at the same time.

One particular group of fair trade farmers in Kerala who grow a number of different things had also been on a journey with non-organic and organic farming. They had undertaken studies showing a correlation between serious illnesses in the local population and a rise in pesticide and herbicide use. They admitted that there was little guidance for using these chemicals and that they were probably being used inappropriately - but once they realised the potency of the chemicals they were using they decided they didn’t want them in their environment at all: ‘Why do we need them when we can create a more natural ecological balance with more people working on the land?’. And importantly these farmers are making a living. The take-home message was ‘IT WORKS’.
A large part of our work with suppliers is helping them understand the quality requirements that we have and how to work towards them. I am working closely with our Indian suppliers to improve their infrastructure and procedures for ensuring the herbs we get are the best quality possible. I’m always happy to talk to our customers about the development work we are doing. We believe that suppliers taking ownership of quality at source benefits them and us as they can add value to their product and we ultimately get better quality herbs – win-win!

Image: OHTC's Matt Richards with Mr Jayen, grower of turmeric and ginger in Kerala