One of the certified elephant-friendly tea plantations in Udalguri district. Picture courtesy: Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network
Guwahati, July 20: Tea produced by two small tea farms in Udalguri district of Assam has been certified as elephant friendly for the first time in the world. The unique initiative is the fruit of a partnership between Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network and the University of Montana, US.
Assam has an elephant population of 5,620 and 54 people were killed by elephants in 2014-15. In Udalguri, in 2014-16, 52 people were killed by elephants while 14 elephants were killed in conflicts.
"Our goal is to support conservation of elephants while providing opportunity for tea growers to obtain premium prices for their tea based on the idea that consumers love great tea and want to make sure the tea they drink is not harmful to elephants. Conservation in every cup is our motto," Julie Stein, executive director, Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network, told The Telegraph.
She said the two farms, named after their owner Tenzing Bodosa, fall in an area where wild elephants and tea plantations share space. Elephants have faced a number of challenges to their existence as tea has eaten into much of their habitat in the northern part of Udalguri, along the India-Bhutan border.
Tea is being grown on approximately 20 acres by organic methods and it is interplanted with trees. The two farms are located at Khairani and Khachibari under Dimakuchi police station and the distance between the two farms is 10-12km. Both the farms produce 6,000kg of made tea. "I plant all kinds of trees like guava, jackfruit and others for a perfect ecosystem. There are no big trenches or fencing in my farms, which provide an easy passage for movement of elephants," Bodosa said.
Julie said certified elephant-friendly tea is sourced from plantations that meet high standards for protection of elephant habitats and water resources, reducing human-elephant conflict, reducing barriers to elephant movement between habitat areas, elimination of electrocution risks from fencing and power lines, elimination of drainage ditch hazards and elimination of risk of poisoning of elephants.
The Elephant Friendly Tea Certification Program was announced at the Balipara Foundation's Eastern Himalayan Naturenomics Forum in November last year here. It was held in conjunction with the IUCN Asian Elephant Specialist Group meeting. Discussions around the concept of elephant-friendly tea were presented and the conference was attended by major tea companies such as Amalgamated Tea Plantations Private Limited and representatives of leading conservation organisations.
On pricing, she said: "We add to the base price a percentage which supports certification operations and compliance monitoring, marketing and sales of their tea internationally, plus the establishment of a grant fund to support additional elephant conservation and human-elephant conflict reduction projects on the ground where the tea is grown.
The first certified teas sold were Bodo Black Assam Elephant Friendly and Bodo Green Assam Elephant Friendly tea. "I am very impressed with the tea. Not only does it taste great, it's extremely gratifying to know the mission it's connected to," said Michael Abrams, owner of Flavor Waves, Inc., maker of tea and coffee flavourings, Hawaii, USA.