Wakro,a tiny laidback town en route to Hindu pilgrimage site Parashuram Kund in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh,has made an impact on the tea growers of the country for its organic variety popularized by Basamlu Krisikro.
Known as the “Tea Lady” among her peers,Basamlu is today not only cultivating organic tea in her five-hectare land,but has motivated many local people of the area,including a few drug addicts,to go in for the chemical-free beverage farming.
During 2009,when her mother Gutitun was diagnosed with cancer,she began giving her a daily cup of organic green tea sourced from a niche estate near Roing town in Lower Dibang Valley district.
But it wasn¿t always possible for her to travel miles to get the beverage. So Basamlu,39,decided to grow tea in the backyard of her house at Wakro. Many people in my area thought I committed a mistake when I planted tea. They felt I could have planted oranges instead,or better still opium,” she revealed.
Last year,she proved the cynics wrong. She sold 8,500 kg of green tea made in a small mechanical factory she had set up. She found buyers from Canada,Australia,USA,Japan and Germany for her Wakro Organic Tea brand.
More importantly,local people bought a substantial quantity of her produce. Lohit and its adjoining districts of Anjaw,Tirap,Changlang and Longding are known for opium cultivation.
It was the outcome of an opium war the British had unleashed in the 1800s much like the one against China’s Qing Dynasty to make the tribal people too intoxicated to resist colonisation.
Our people are being threatened by opium farming that fetches them money,but turning them into addicts. Anti-drug agencies dont come here because this place is far off,Basamlu,a Delhi University product,said. She motivated the youths of her locality as well as adjacent areas to go in for tea cultivation.
Farmers in Wakro prefer opium because they were not aware of other high-value crops,Basamlu said adding in order to change the attitude of them she supplied tea plants brought from Assam on a deferred payment basis.
She also inked deals with them to buy their organic harvest to process in her factory. It’s been a slow progress,but then it is not easy to change old habits,she said. Today,Wakro and nearby areas have at least half a dozen small tea gardens that include a 3.6 hectare land owned by Songelum Bam,a former opium addict.
Assam-based organic tea planter Binod Saharia,Basamlu’s mentor,calls her “cultivation crusade” a reverse opium war.
It takes a lot of courage to go for organic tea farming in a remote place since fertilisers and chemical boosters ensure more commercial success.
What she is doing,albeit on a small scale,is remarkable. More praiseworthy is her effort to change the mindset of people addicted to opium,he said.
The venture started by Basamlu has given the Arunachal Pradesh government ideas on how they could motivate opium growers to opt for other crops.
We have identified tea and rubber as viable options for these geographically disadvantaged farmers. But we are not doing away with poppy cultivation altogether; a few strategic farms would be given license for functioning under government control,mainly to feed pharmaceutical firms,an official of the trade and commerce department said.
A recent industry report said that the fairly untouched Eastern Himalayan region,particularly Lohit and Anjaw districts,can replace the aromatic Darjeeling tea whose quality has been impacted by old and non-remunerative plantations.
Last year I could produce 2000 kg of finished tea from my garden and the quantity are expected to increase to 4000-5000 kg from this year onwards,Basamlu disclosed.
Basamlu is not the only one in the Krisikro family working for the people. Her husband Amma,an engineer with an oil firm,and son Navin have also pitched in.