Rajah returned home on a holiday from his undergraduate study in London.
He had no intent of living in the garden.
His father astutely encouraged him to enjoy his holiday by hunting in the estate forest and riding in the plantation. But, Man proposes God disposes. A fall from his horse on 21st August 1970 proved to be momentous. It was a moment of pure spiritual connection with the forest around it.
A hitherto unknown love for the trees blossomed, and the germ of Makaibari as we know it today was planted.
It was a calling for him to remain and evolve splendours of diversity of flora and fauna of the region by becoming a fourth generation planter in his ancestral estate.
FIRST COMMUNITY BIOGAS GENERATOR
Rajah’s dream of turning the estate to a sustainable plantation came closer to reality in 1971, when he successfully installed the first community biogas unit. The idea took root from the intense desire to alleviate the hardships of the women of the community. The women were the hardest workers. They were up at pre-dawn to collect head-loads of firewood, clean, cook and ready the kids for school, and went off to pluck tea leaves for eight hours. On return more household chores awaited them till dinner, followed by a too tired slumber. A very hard day indeed. The biogas provided a source of non-polluting renewable energy on tap, enabling the ladies to rise at a more humane hour. The milk improved children’s health. The manure provided nourishing seasonal vegetables otherwise bought from the market. The sale of surplus milk, vegetable, fruits and manure provided much needed extra income.
The co-operative unit failed at first, only to return triumphantly as individual units a decade later.
PIONEERING MULCHING PRACTICES
The practice of mulching is integral to Permaculture, practised by and non-Darjeeling gardens. In woodlands layers of falling leaves create a blanket of mulch in time. Taking a cue from a forest, Banerjee in 1973 created a blueprint for mulching the plantation. The process of covering the soil with any lopped vegetation, ensured moisture retention in the soil, retards weed growth but does not kill it, prevents erosion, as any rain fall is cushioned by it, and last but not least on decay creates humus. The humus is the most hospitable environment for microorganisms. Its proliferation is the ultimate soul of the soil. This was the foundation which propelled Makaibari’s organic voyage in world of tea.
Banerjee refers to the plantation as the ‘community cow’- the benevolent creature that feeds all. The biodynamic principles he applied to farming were aimed at keeping the soil healthy and well-nourished. Right at the start, he discovered the tools to supplement his sustainable beliefs: the destructive impact of chemical pesticides on the plantation and the entire ecosystem. He had seen microorganisms growing in the naturally mulched soil, only to be annihilated by chemical pesticides. A pheasant that fed on such organisms died soon after, followed by a wildcat which feed on the pheasant, and finally a panther which has eaten the wild cat, completing the destruction of the entire food chain. The horror of what he witnessed prompted Banerjee to focus more on organic compost. Boosted by the positive results he had seen of manure on tea plants, he started to apply organic compost to the entire plantation. Cows were provided to the community members, along with lessons on composting techniques.
FIRST ORGANIC TEA PLANTATION
This year was a landmark in Banerjee’s life. The plantation had been implementing sustainable practices for over decade. In early 1988, it was certified as the first organic tea garden globally. The idea had germinated in Banerjee’s mind, prompted by close friend and collaborator Kiran Tawadey, owner of the Hampstead Tea and Coffee Company, London. Banerjee visited organic conventions in Budapest and Dornach, and reintroduced himself to the works of Steiner, the proponent of biodynamic agriculture. Reading Steiner opened Banerjee’s mind to the wonderment harmony between nature and mankind. This led to Banerjee pioneering Biodynamic practices, being introduced to tropics, resulting in the first Demeter certified farmland in the tropics.
SPREADING THE WORD
Rajah Banerjee was invited to be a speaker at the prestigious and first ever Organic Tea and Coffee Conference in Frauenfeld, Switzerland. He spoke of the tea growing practices he had pioneered to the tea world.
EMPOWERING WOMEN WORKERS
Having always been vocal and active in the empowerment of women, a subject close to his heart and work, Banerjee brought about a revolution in the Indian tea plantation practices in 1991, when he employed women supervisors in his estate. Traditionally, this post was reserved for men, and this radical step was to change plantation proceedings forever. The same year, he was also incited to speak at IFOAM, the first Organic World Conference, in Budapest.
FAIRTRADE AND DEMETER
In 1993, Banerjee’S plantation created history by receiving Fairtrade and Demeter certificate, both first in the tea world. The initial criteria practise at his garden was accepted as Fairtrade-model for all tea producers globally .
In the same year, a documentary on Banerjee’s sustainable and Fairtrade practices was produced, by ZDF for German television was so popular that sequel was made following year, attracting global attention.
ATTRACTING GLOBAL ATTENTION
In 1997, Banerjee was continuing to spread his wisdom gained from years of hands-on experience to the rest of the world. The first International Organic Tea Seminar was held in Kolkata, India. He was invited to be one of the principal speakers, followed by another prestigious speaking stint at Ertfries convention at Koln Germany. This was followed by a plaudit by the tiger man Tariq Aziz. On behalf of WWF Tiger Conservation program he recommended Banerjee’s efforts under the world wide Living Planet campaign to be chosen as a gift to the earth.
SETTING AN EXAMPLE
Banerjee renewed his association with Fairtrade in 1999, when he was invited to become the speaker at the Fairtrade convention held in Tokyo, Japan. The same year, his practices once again became the subject of a documentary, this time by NHK for Japanese television. The film highlighted Rajah’s ethical and sustainable work as a forerunner to rural global living lifestyles for the next millennia.
RASHTRIYA RATAN & DR. MASANOBU FUKUOKA
This year was marked by great personal achievements by Rajah Banerjee. On 21st November, he was awarded the Rashtriya Ratan Award by the government, for outstanding individual achievements and distinguished service to the nation. A cherished moment was the 3 day visit of Rajah’s plantation by the legendary “one straw revolution“ wizard Masanobu Fukuoka. The legend arrived in his wheelchair to congratulate Banerjee for his outstanding sustainable efforts that had created a global following.
HEALTHIER COMMUNITY AND BETTER BUSINESS
The Silver Tips Imperial- the patented tea of Rajah’s was auction at Kolkata at $450/kg, creating a new benchmark for tea. Same year, with the generous aid of Dr. Shin Soneya of the Saitama Medical Institute, Japan, the first Phaco machine was installed in the Kurseong Sub-divisional Hospital, along with an electron Microscope. The great doctor also conducted free eye camps for next five years with his team. This has benefited thousands in the regions in past decade.
THE LORD OF DARJEELING
Banerjee was captured on film twice, the first by famous filmmaker Xavier de Lausanne from Paris. The film, called ‘The Lord of Darjeeling’, went on to win CANNES’ best agro documentary award. The second was by Vir Sanghvi, the gourmet writer, who created a storm in tea cup by extolling Banerjee’s creations on Discovery Travel and Living’s ‘A Matter of Taste with Vir Sanghvi’.
SEMINARS AND COMMEMORATIONS
This was a busy year for Banerjee. He shuttled throughout Japan, attending seminars and conferences held in town halls of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Yokohama, to expound on Fairtrade practices and its benefits on holistic sustainable agriculture. His sustainable practices were again commemorated by BBC’s in house celebrity Sanjeev Bhaskar in a documentary- Mystic River, celebrating the 60th year of Indian independence.
FEATURED ON TIME
Rajah Banerjee’s dream of making agriculture more environment-friendly came a step closer to reality when Time magazine featured his teas on the cover of its May ’08 issue. The story featured the excellence of teas and sustainable agriculture practices. The Rajah of Darjeeling Organic Tea- Makaibari, was published by Cambridge University Press the same year.
ECO BOMB SOLUTION
In January 2009, Business Economics magazine featured in its cover story Banerjee’s work at the plantation as a dynamic solution for politics, economics, and environment for the world on the brink of the Great Eco Bomb. This was a significant step in Rajah’s relentless work at bringing about a harmony between agriculture and natural forces, irrevocably proving that sustainable agricultural practices are economically viable and could be applied to all kinds of farming and impact all areas of life.
Cambridge University featured Rajah’s efforts as the most outstanding tea initiative in the world in its Tracing Tea section. Simultaneously, Handels Journal, a German prestigious magazine, lauded his efforts as the most exciting application of Steiner’s biodynamic principles in modern times.
Rajah’s holistic synergies continued to be well-loved by the tea community globally. National Geographic mentioned the estate as a must-visit spot in India. Banerjee’s efforts at empowering the women in the plantation received international recognition in the Channel 11 feature that highlighted the homestay program at Makaibari. This opened up an alternative source of income for the ladies, enabling them to achieve better standards of living and access improved education for the children. This paved the way for him to be invited to the Green Economy and Sustainable Mountain Development workshop in preparation Rio+20 at ICI MOD Kathmandu, Nepal.
SPREADING MAKAIBARI’S MESSAGE
The holistic biodynamic principles practice by Rajah Banerjee continued to inspire the rest of the world. This agricultural model was showcased in BBC Good Food magazine’s May ’12 issue. AajTak, the prominent Indian television channel, covered Banerjee’s practices in a story, highlighting his role in agriculture and importance in the changing face of organic farming in the country. Furthur honour awaited Banerjee. At Jok –jakarta Indonesia he was the only Indian tea master together with Chinese and a Japanese tea master to showcase his array of original Darjeeling creations.
ESTABLISHMENT AS A HOLISTIC AGRICULTURAL PRACTICE
Banerjee added a few more feathers to his cap in the form of accolades. He was becoming known as a revolution in alternative agriculture- a paradigm in the world of organic farming. His efforts were honoured by the Thai counsellor presenting him with the honorific gift for the planet.
Banerjee continued to spread word about a better world through a feature in Chinese television, presentations in the organic Fair of Sustainability- Falacosagiusta, Milano, Italy, and through his contribution to The SOUL and SPIRIT of TEA, a comprehensive list of 21 essays to inspire tea lovers and growers. The Dawn of Truth for Sustainable Tea, penned by Banerjee, roused highly positive response from the world community. At the height of his fame Banerjee’s primer surprise to the people of Makaibari community. Banerjee began a slow renouncing of his crown by retaining only 12 percent of share.
A STORY OF SOLIDARITY
In 2014, Banerjee embarked on a journey of solidarity with the tea lovers of the world. This began with the collaboration between Banerjee and U.S.-based Honest Tea. Mission in a Bottle, an engaging two-colour graphic book was the result of this union, providing insights into building a mission-driven business in a highly competitive market. This was followed by yet another participation in the Falacosagiusta and the presentation of his range of his creativity and philosophy; the same was shared with Slow Food, Italy.
Presentation of the same for the first time at Biofach, Japan, in the same year, turned out to be an enormous success, proving once again that Makaibari had cemented its position in the Green Revolution slowly taking root in the world. Business was booming at this point, thanks to the great quality born of an ethical philosophy; which enable b set another record when international buyers cumulatively purchased a unique 50kg lot of his Silver Tips Imperial for a of $1850 per kg.
A BUSY AND BOUNTIFUL YEAR
The year was a special one as Banerjee inaugurated Jari Buti, the first Medicinal Plant Laboratory in the Darjeeling District, in collaboration with the Himalayan Institute of Goodwill and Living Ethics and the Italian herbalists of Qualiterbe, Comunità di EticaVivente, Italy.
A PHOENIX SOARS
2017 was the most significant year in Rajah’s life. He had started the year on the usual note: presenting at conferences and seminars. Having renounced much of his shares at Makaibari, he could now devote a lot more time and energy to the development of sustainable agriculture on a global scale. Destiny had a twisted plan; on 16th March 2017, his ancestral bungalow, which had stood the ravages of 150-odd years, was gutted in an all consuming fire. Unable to save anything- the years of memorabilia, prized taxidermies and priceless painting and manuscripts, Banerjee escaped the fire with just the clothes on his back. He looked at the turn of event as a portent seeing the path before him lit up clearly with the flames. From the ashes of his home, rose the phoenix called Rimpocha.
THE BIRTH OF RIMPOCHA
The next year was trying and exhilarating at the same time. Rajah saw the fire melting away the locks that had kept him at the helm of Makaibari, and he spent the year forming plans and dreaming big for the true love of his life: biodynamic agriculture on a large scale. His emotions at the incident were eclectic: on the one hand, he knew he would miss Makaibari immensely; on the other, he was finally feeling truly at home, following what he feels is his true contribution to the world. Exactly a year after the momentous fire, on 16rd March 2018, Banerjee stepped down from the position he had held over four decades, turning over all his shares to community at Makaibari. Rimpocha, he knows, is going to change the face of agriculture once and for all in India and beyond- ushering in a green revolution that will give back to nature much more than it takes.
With this goal, Rimpocha was born on 9th October 2018- the first step to fulfilling Rajah Banerjee’s true legacy of his time on Earth.
THROUGH THE LENS
AWARDS AND REWARDS
Rashtriya Rattan 2002
Rajah Banerjee received the award for outstanding individual achievements and distinguished service to the nation.
Gift for the Planet 2013
Rajah was awarded by the Thai Embassy for his holistic philosophy as a gift for the Planet.
Business Economics 2009
Business Economics magazine featured Rajah’s work at Makaibari as a way out from the Great Eco Bomb.