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Mineral Spring organic and faritrade certified collective in the Darjeeling Hills

The 456 family members of Mineral Spring, Sanjukta Vikas Sanstha (MSSVS), Darjeeling have been selling certified organic, fair trade labeled, small farmers tea since 2001. A unique product, in the famous Darjeeling Tea industry.

MSSVS lies in Harsing, Dabaiani and Yangkhoo Villages in Darjeeling, India with 450 families as its members. These villages are a part of the erstwhile Harrison’s and Mineral Springs Tea Estate, which closed down sometime in 1956. The garden was approximately 1200 acres with 600 acres of tea and the other reserve forest.

Post 1956 the people survived selling: tea to neighbouring gardens, hand made tea, firewood, timber and charcoal from the garden reserve forest. Post 1960 with the hope of the garden opening receding and the reserve forest depleting rapidly, the people started “grabbing the land” and started cultivating traditional food grains. The land grabbing was based on might so the people own anything between ½ acre to 12 acres of land.

The communities organized themselves into Mineral Spring Sanjukta Vikas Sanstha (United Development Association) in 1996, with the intervention of a local NGO, DLR Prerna (, The MSSVS has a number of programmes like savings and credit union; women’s self help groups; milk, drinking water and consumer cooperatives. The MSSVS has a two tier elected governance system with nominated members from the women’s self help groups in the Board.

Tea bushes had been retained partially when the people converted to traditional agriculture. A tie up between MSSVS and Tea Promoters India (TPI), a corporate body was facilitated by DLR Prerna. In this tie up, TPI processes and markets MSSVS tea in the international market, as an exclusive, small farmer co-operative, certified organic fair trade labeled tea. The tea is sold internationally as Mineral Springs Small Farmers Tea.

In 2001, MSSVS was granted producer organic certificate under ECC 2092/91(EU Standards), Naturland (German), Bio-Suisse (Swiss) and National Organic Program (USA). MSSVS is also certified under National Program for Organic Production (India).

The organic certification, is based on a system of Internal Control System (ICS) and Internal Regulation System (IRS). This system decentralizes organic farm certification and promotion at the community level. The ICS and IRS enshrine the roles and responsibilities of organic farming at the farmer, hamlet, MSSVS, DLR Prerna, TPI and Inspecting body levels. It includes individual farm documentation, farm practices, and internal and external inspection procedures. This process makes the certification participatory and accessible to small farmers.

In 2003, Fair Trade Labeling Organizations International included MSSVS as a producer organization member. FLO labeling ensures that the products sold under the label is ethically produced and marketed. MSSVS has been receiving premium price financial benefits from FLO since 2004 and has been using it for her development needs.

Mineral Springs Small Farmers Tea is being sold through chains like Alter Eco, DWP and Equal Exchange internationally and through Life and Leaf in Darjeeling.

The MSSVS experience is unique and of great significance in the famous Darjeeling Tea industry, which is supposedly going through a bearish period.

MSSVS tea is not a plantation crop but is inter-cropped with other crops. It is environmental safe as proven by the organic certification. Very importantly, the producer communities, who decide and govern themselves, own the land.

The organic certification and fair trade labeling gives the community a better price for their products. Tea also gives them a monetary income nine months in a year. There have been enquires for their other products like ginger and cardamom.

MSSVS lies in the fringe of Senchel Wildlife Sanctuary. Lately, boars, bears, monkeys, civets, deer, porcupines and rabbits have been creating havoc in the agricultural land, eating and destroying crops. Tea is the only crop these animals do not destroy.

The MSSVS experience has great relevance to Darjeeling with its unique and fragile socio-ecological systems, a part of the Eastern Himalayas, a bio-diversity hotspots.

It also has great relevance to the tea industry, locally and internationally; the way it is cultivated, managed, marketed and the profits shared.

MSSVS is not only charting new development territories for themselves but also for the larger world community.