Assam Tea and Endangered Indian Elephants
A recent study that was conducted by the Indian Government concluded that there is significant deforestation in the State of Assam by approximately 50% as of 2015.
Assam is an area the produces much of the world’s Assam tea, 40% of all consumed Assam tea in the world comes from this region, and 70% of tea consumed in India is from the Assam acres.
The loss of the natural forests of this area has a significant impact on the whole entire ecosystem of India. The loss of the forest cover, the government quotes, has caused alarming statistics. Approximately 800 people were killed in the ten years between 2006 through 2016 and this was attributed to wild Indian Elephants. Between the years 2001 through 2014 approximately 225 elephants were killed; and between 2013 and 2014, 72 elephants were killed alone.
Elephants roam through Assam tea plantations as a normal part of their migrations. Because of the loss of their lush forest canopy, they often come into direct contact with people, and with the encroachment of their lands it simply leaves them with fewer places to roam.
With this progressive loss of land it renders all including the elephant themselves as more aggressive. Poaching on elephants has now once again has become a wide-spread problem. It is a cycle that is becoming worse, increased population, more tea farms, less food and water along with altered migration routes could be disastrous.
Causes of Conflict
Small batch tea farmers are colliding with large and commercial tea growers, each other accusing the other. The Indian Tea Association claims it is those little tea farms that are 20 acres or under that are abusing the forests. The Indian Tea Association represents the large tea plantations. While, with little or no representation at all the small batch operator is not budging, stating that they actually need the tree canopy to be successful as a grower at all.
The solutions for coexisting with the elephants will not be an easy one. Located in the Baksha District of Assam there are two small batch farms that are changing the world’s view on that. They are the Bodosa Tea Farms and they have been recognized with an award. They are enacting change and bringing conservation into the area. The tea farms have gotten the accommodations for being elephant-friendly.
They have partnered with Wildlife Friendly Network and the University of Montana in the United States. With their support the small batch tea farm is enabled to grow tea with organic methods and added “treed areas” dispersed within their tea farm. They plant trees such as guava, and jack fruit. The elephants not only like to eat these fruits, the elephants help to disperse the seeds, thus further growing trees naturally. These two fruits supplement the elephant’s diet. While the elephants have eaten bark and twigs of full trees and they are herbivores, and they do not eat tea leaves.
They are helping to build a sustainable area. The farms will have no barriers, drainage ditches, trenches, or walls so that elephant migration is made easier and safer. There will be no electrified fences, wires, and powerlines lessening electrocution and will provide many areas of fresh water resources.
The Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN) is dedicated to development of products and tourism that promotes conservation of threatened and near extinction wildlife. The intervention provided to these two small tea farms are and have made a significant difference and impact on this area and in elephant mortalities and human interaction. They now are selling boxes of their organic tea under the “Elephant Friendly Tea” Certification.
The University of Montana and WFEN launched the certification under very strict rules. They are encouraging all tea farms to meet the criteria and to seek the friendly coexistence of humans and elephants. The University of Montana is hoping this grass roots farm-to-cup approach will catch on and spread to the other area tea plantations. It is considered critical to the Indian elephant’s survival.
They proudly displayed the new certification at the World Tea Expo this past June 2017 in Las Vegas Nevada.
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