Whether enticed or coerced, harvesting opium provides essential cash for women in the borderlands of Arunachal Pradesh. But impoverished agricultural workers often become ensnared in criminal dealings.
To combat this plight Basamlu Krisikro, affectionately known as the “tea lady” throughout these lands, has devoted much of her life to encouraging people in the village of Wakro in the Lohit district to cultivate tea. The region in the Northeast of India borders Tibet and Bhutan.
Opium poppy field in Czech Republic
Krisikro, now in her 40s, began growing green tea in her backyard in 2009. A post-graduate from Delhi University, she wanted fresh tea to nurse her mother following a successful operation to rid her of lung cancer.
In a feature article by the Indo-Asian New Service (IANS) Krisikro said “the eastern districts, particularly my area (Wakro), has been known for growing oranges in the past.”
“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,” she told INS. “Opium gave them an alternative sustainable source of income and an addiction too,” she said.
In Wakro there are now 12,000 opium cultivators earning INRs 650 ($10) for a mere 12 grams. Two acres of poppies yield six to seven kilos of opium worth $5,000, she said.
Over time, she, and a local medical practitioner by the name of Nayil, took it upon themselves to convince people that planting tea is an alternative, sustainable source of income.
“We 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 Krisikro who now farms five hectares, producing 3,000 kilos of organic green tea.