ZERI Network and Sanctuary Asia

ORGANIZATION NAME: The Blue Economy Initiative

LOCATION: Assam State, India

SUMMARY: ZERI Network and Sanctuary Asia (with the support of APPL), the brainchild of renowned eco-entrepreneur and activist Gunter Pauli and his Blue Economy initiative, is a comprehensive project that seeks to simultaneously tackle multiple goals: conservation, wildlife and biodiversity protection in one of the world’s most diverse regions (which includes endangered rhinos, tigers, and elephants); food security, sustainable economic development, and effective social services for a currently impoverished population; and the demonstration of cutting-edge organic agro-ecological methods’ capacity to be competitive. The locus of this initiative is the extensive Hathikuli organic tea plantation and the adjoining Kaziranga National Park along the Brahmaputra River in India’s Assam State. A partnership between the large multinational TATA Group, the plantation’s owner, Sanctuary Asia, the most prominent Indian conservation and wildlife protection NGO, and Blue Economy, this project seeks to develop a wide gamut of innovative niche agricultural products as well as coordinated reforestation, soil regeneration, and water and soil bioremediation, combined with the generation of economic opportunities for the regional population. This model joins together the best thinking of biomimetic designers, environmentalists, business leaders and local citizens and governments, could be an exemplar of a comprehensive approach to the harmonious co-existence of conservation and economic development.

PROBLEM SPACE: “The tea plantation is located next to Kaziranga National Park, a World Heritage site since 1985. It is Asia’s largest floodplains maintained by monsoons and Himalayas. In 2007 tea plantation management decided to convert the estate organic to stop chemical run-off into the park. Unfortunately, organic tea bushes lost 75% of its annual harvest. The main reason is the very poor carbon content of the soil (<1%). the cost of operating an organic farm in india is high since natural herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers need to be imported to meet the strict foreign organic standards.

After accumulating nearly us$50 million in losses (a us$4 million loss in 2015), the corporate headquarters in mumbai (tata group) impose cost reductions, increasing the conversion of full time workers to part time staff. this risks increased poaching, illegal settlements in the park, acid and dynamite fishing. this puts animals and the ecosystem in danger increasing the need for policing. therefore critical needs are: (1) replenish soil with carbon, (2) produce local agrochemicals, (3) increase regional economic activity with job creation, (4) generate more value with what exists, (5) ensure food security, (6) build up community, while (6) celebrating this unique biodiversity, strengthening park operations.”

SOLUTION: “The Blue Economy suggests to use what is locally available, generate more value instead of cutting costs, strengthen communities’ resilience by increasing number of jobs and families’ purchasing power. Fresh revenues from new activities are partly earmarked for social and health activities.

The plantation’s renaissance first diversifies within this shade grown tea estate. We will not replace the century old tea tradition, but strengthen income starting with available waste, assets and ecosystem services safeguarding the park’s thriving ecosystem. Some initiatives have been implemented, some are planned:

(1) Trees grow pepper vines increasing revenues by 15%. By 2017 all trees produce pepper.

(2) Prunings were composted, but this hardwood is now used as substrate for mushroom farming. Trials started.

(3) Spent substrate after harvesting mushrooms helps replenish soil fertility.

(4) Invasive water hyacinth from Park is harvested to increase mushroom substrate volume.

(4) Pepper and mushrooms are dried in tea facilities which are idle 5 months a year when there is no tea harvest.

(5) Boreholes are closed, since pumping was expensive and exploited Park’s water table. Eighteen monsoon water retention ponds have been created.

(6) All water ponds will farm 6 types of local carps one for each trophic level. Three ponds done.

(7) As pond water is used for irrigation, fish is harvested. Brooders are carefully guarded while bottom slurry is used to replenish plantation soil.

(8) In winter, water is too cold for breeding fish. A 3km pipeline will pump waste heat from three wood/coal fired drying stations into ponds to increase water temperature and fish farming productivity.

(9) Additional revenues are partly used to support schooling, the arts and community health care.

(10) Tea used to be sold in bulk, now we create a premium brand, to be packed in biodegradable teabags.

(11) Natural herbicides are tested.”

CONTACT: [email protected]