The foray of a resident of a village in Arunachal Pradesh into tea plantation inspired scores of people in the area to follow her example with many of them giving up growing opium.
Affectionately called ‘tea lady’, Basamlu Krisikro, a resident of the remote Wakro village in Lohit district, started tea plantation nine years ago. Her reason was purely personal.
In 2009, her mother was detected with lung cancer and after a successful operation in Mumbai, doctors advised her a regular dose of organic green tea.
A post graduate from Delhi University, Krisikro, who is in her early 40s now, had to go to neighbouring Assam often to fetch organic green tea. It was then that she decided to grow it in her backyard.
Today, many families in Lohit district who were earlier cultivating poppy or opium have followed the path shown by her.
Conventional tea cultivation has been prevalent in some parts of Arunachal Pradesh for ages. But it was not popular in eastern districts of the state such as Lohit, Anjaw, Tirap and Changlang — which share international borders with China.
Famous for its biodiversity, Arunachal Pradesh shares international borders with Myanmar, China and Bhutan. However, the eastern districts of the hilly state are notorious for opium cultivation, which is a cash crop and fetches huge profits to the farmers.
"The eastern districts, particularly my area (Wakro), has been known for orange plantation in the past," said Krisikro.
"However, the orange production declined significantly over the last several years for reasons not known, forcing the once orange orchard owners to take to opium cultivation in a big way.
"This opium gave them an alternative sustainable source of income and an addiction too," said Basamlu.
Krisikro and a medical practitioner, Nayil, took it upon themselves to convince people that tea plantation could be an alternative source of sustainable income.
"We also motivated the opium cultivators to replace their fields with small-scale tea plantations. And it did wonders. Within a year, at least a dozen of them turned into small tea growers," said Basamlu whose one hectare tea plantation in 2009 has been extended to five hectares now.
Only 12 grams of opium could fetch Rs.650 and one needs to invest only Rs.7,000 for opium cultivation in one hectare of land, which yields about six to seven kg of opium, said Basamlu.
In Wakro alone, there are 12,000 to 13,000 opium cultivators.
"It’s really sad to see that the consumption of opium, especially among the youth, is eating away the vitals of our society," she said while expressing happiness that about 12 families in Wakro have totally given up opium cultivation for tea plantation.
She recently set up a tea processing unit so that the new tea planters in Wakro could supply their produces easily.
"Last year, I produced about 3,000 kg of orthodox and organic green tea and my buyers include people from India and abroad," she said.
She said that she had approached the Arunachal Pradesh government several times seeking its intervention to stop the opium cultivation, but to no avail.
"There has been no good response from the government. I tried but failed. Had there been intervention by the government to popularize the tea plantation and as an alternative to opium cultivation, the situation would not have been so bad," she said.