Few weeks before I completed my MBA first year at Stanford, I connected with one of my favorite professors in my Introduction to Environmental Sciences class. She is Gretchen C. Daily, co-director of the Natural Capital Project and the 2017 winner of the Blue Planet Prize. Professor Daily's work focuses on harmonizing biodiversity conservation with agriculture. Over the last three months, I have been thinking about our interaction; how do we balance farming with conservation, how do we see nature as an asset and how do we get farmers to design agriculture practices that yields the maximum benefit of the ecosystem of birds, forest and insects.
Transitioning to organic farming and caring for the ecosystem yields dividends even for commercial farms. My first experience in organic farming was while working at the 1,200 hectare banana plantation of Golden Exotics limited in Ghana. We decided to experiment with organic banana farming with just 32 hectares. Our main concern was how to control pest and weeds and also satisfy organic certification standards. We tried various techniques including mulching. We introduced different crops into the farm to prevent erosion and reduce outbreak of weeds. We sprayed our banana leafs with natural oils instead of pesticides for pest control. Within a few months, there was considerable difference between the conventional farm and organic farm in terms of the color and richness of the soil, the taste and size of fruit, and the temperature within the farm. After the first year, our project expanded to 100 hectares.
Within the last month I have been based in Wazuka, Japan, I have realized that although Japanese agricultural practices are not as damaging to the environment as you would have it in other places, organic tea farming is almost not existent. At D-matcha, we have a few plots of organic tea and also source a few organic products from a handful of farmers. This Saturday, amidst the winds of Typhoon Talim, Daiki and I, set off to visit Yoshito-san, a prominent organic tea farmer in Wasuka to learn more about his story.
Yoshito-san invited us into his home which is neatly decorated with cedar and cypress wood from the ceiling to the walls, and floors. Surprisingly, no part of the room from the kitchen cabinet to the dinning set was spared some impressive wood furnishing. I immediately knew he had an appreciation for nature, not just the enjoyment of it but also the preservation.
He served us potatoes with some of his finest tea selections. Asahi matcha he calls it (Asahi means sunshine in Japanese).This matcha (powdered green tea) is slightly brighter than Okumidori and has a very good taste.
He also served us two different varieties of green tea: sen-cha and Houji-cha (roasted green tea). Tasting Yoshito-san's houji-cha summarized the professionalism and the expertise which fashions his craft. It had a very unique taste which is not as smoky as the ones I have tasted in the past.
Proceeding with the interview, I asked Yoshito-san a few questions:
Ruth: Why do you do organic farming?
Yoshito: At the age of 15 years, I fell terribly sick. I had to care more about what I eat and I started avoiding food made with chemicals. At the age of 21 years, I started green tea farming and I went fully organic in order to share my way of life with others. I am also a nature lover, I played and benefited with it as a child and I feel obligated to preserve it.
Ruth: The average age of farmers in Wazuka is above 65. Why did you gain interest in farming at such a tender age?
Yoshito: My love for nature gives me a desire to always be outside and enjoy the view. My father is a green tea farmer, so farming came to me naturally I guess although I decided to do it differently.
Ruth: What benefits does the ecosystem provide to your organic farm
Yoshito: It gives me good inspiration for farming but I think its an interconnected food chain, hence the activities of other farmers to insects and the environment inadvertently affects me. The bees that could provide pollination and the birds that could feed on the disease causing insects are in short supply because they have not been considered useful in the past.
Ruth: How are you helping other farmers shift towards organic farming.
Yoshito: Most farmers believe that organic farming is just safe for the environment but does not produce tasty tea. My products just placed 5th out of 76 in the Wazuka Green Tea Competition. By participating in the competition, I wanted to prove to other farmers that organic farming can be safe and tasty.
Ruth: Has organic farming been profitable?
Yoshito: I am more motivated by my way of life and beliefs than by financial returns. My product are of a very high quality and a high price but through it, I want to spread my way of thinking about nature and to motivate others to do same.
Ruth: Thanks Yoshito-san for sharing your story.
Yoshito: You are welcome Ruth! I wish you the best in your career.