Steering the Organic Movement in Assam
Peggy Carswell (64), a resident of Canada, has been active in Assam, India, since seventeen years, where she has transformed the lives of thousands of people by inspiring them to use organic and sustainable farming techniques. Assam is one of the leading producers of tea in India, but farmers were accidentally misusing harmful pesticides because they could not read the English instructions.
Peggy brought small-scale tea growers and farmers together and showed them how to grow tea and vegetables organically. To overcome the challenge of shortage of skilled people in India in this specialized field, she has been able to establish training centers to promote hubs for people to practice organic farming over time. These have included three demonstration gardens where people can learn the organic farming practices first-hand. Small tea farmers have been able to benefit immensely from her approach that does not use pesticides. For example, many of the growers now use an indigenous method of crushing the tea with a wooden tool, which adds a slight smoky flavor, a popular taste in the West. This would not have been possible without using the sustainable agricultural practices introduced by Peggy of generating organic tea by using local seeds, locally available organic inputs, composting, insect pest management and crop rotation. She has built a collaborative group of Assamese and Canadian farmers, small tea growers, partner organizations, and local and international volunteers. Her workshops have served as platforms where small tea growers can learn about sustainable agricultural practices, marketing, packaging, and networking with tea experts and importers. The most important change that Peggy was able to bring about was to increase the availability of small-scale equipment to produce finished tea goods that helped the tea-growers tremendously. A challenge that Peggy is working to address is that while a lot of work is being done by South Indian organizations on sustainable and organic crop production and preservation of local seeds, Assam is not able to benefit from it as not much information and funding reaches this part of India.