Meet The Organic Tea Farmer Who Has The World’s First Elephant-Friendly Tea Gardens
In the midst of life’s’ hardships, more often than not we wonder, “Why me?” We find accepting ‘what is’ difficult, making it tougher for us to turn our lives around.
When Tenzing Bodosa was 10-11 years old, he dropped standard 6 and left home in search of odd jobs. He wanted to help his mother with the finances. Tenzing’s father had passed away when he was just 6 years old and his mother was looking after their 5-acre ancestral farm.
In the present, their farms include stretches of 25 acres of land where the mother-son duo grow organic tea and earn a yearly turnover of Rs 60-70 lakh.
But Tenzing had to struggle immensely to reach to this point.
From joining school to earn money to working in a Malaysian construction company
We enrol in schools to get educated, hoping that it will help us in the future to lead a comfortable life.
When Tenzing left his school, he enrolled in another one; not to attend classes but to work in the garden. After working at a series of odd jobs, he began working for a Malaysian construction company.
I worked in the factory for 13 years and learnt a lot of work – driving, mechanic work and handling machinery. I owe my strength to work to those years spent at the construction company. It also taught me how to use the internet and speak English,” said Tenzing to The Logical Indian.
However, as his mother was ageing, she wanted him to come back home and work on the farm.
His grandfather and father used to be paddy and vegetable farmers. But by the time, Tenzing came back to Assam, tea had become the popular choice for cultivation. The crop was also easier to market as many global tea companies were interested in importing it.
Tenzing too decided to grow tea on his farm. However, he had no prior experience in the area.
“I had no knowledge of tea farming and my mother and I found it extremely challenging in the beginning to cope with all the information that we had to grasp,” said Tenzing.
He began tea farming in the small plot of ancestral land in 2007 and took the advice of experts in the field.
“The big companies advised me to use chemical fertilizers to the speed the growth of the plants,” recalled Tenzing.
They also suggested the use of chemical pesticides to safeguard the tea plants and the use of genetically modified crops to increase yield.
Since Tenzing knew little, he followed what was told.
“The chemicals would give me immense headaches and I would feel nauseous,” said Tenzing. “I wondered – how can something that makes me feel sick be good for the plants and the people consuming them?”
His mother supported his plan to farm without the use of pesticides because this is what she used to do as well.
“I make all fertilizers and pesticides myself with cow and goat manure and by mixing lots of natural ingredients,” said Tenzing.
When everyone told him that tea cannot be grown organically, he decided to not listen and do what he felt was best. Tenzing knew the repercussions of using chemicals – water runoff, infiltration, soil infertility and damage to microorganisms.
He was also advised against growing more than 4-5 crops in one plot of land. But Tenzing has nearly 100 different crops growing on his farm. “Intercropping is good for the soil,” he said.
“I learnt a lot from my visit to Dr. L Narayan Reddy from Doddaballapur in Bangalore. He was growing tea organically and his classes made me gain perspective into the area,” he added.
Following this, he invited Canadian NGO Fertile Ground to him farm and received further training.
Now, he also has his own processing unit where he packages the tea for global export in Canada, Germany, USA, UK, etc.
The world’s first elephant friendly farms
Out the 25 acres of land, Tenzing uses 7.5 acres for tea plantation. The rest of the land is used to grow other crops like oranges, guavas, mangoes, amla, paddy, among others.
But the fascinating part of his farms is the 40-50 hectares of land near the India-Bhutan border where elephants are a common sight as the farms’ ecological balance gives them a healthy environment to stay in.
“I love seeing the elephants come to my farms. In the area where they come, I do not grow tea as elephants don’t consume tea plants. They peacefully stroll in the farms along with other animals like hornbills, wild pigs,deers, peacocks and various birds,” said Tenzing.
Two years back, one of the elephants died in his farm due to conflicts. Tenzing loved the fact that the animals came to his farms but wanted to do something about the fights that sometimes erupted between them. For nearly two years he pursued the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to visit his farm and help him. When they finally did, they were amazed to see the animals roam freely.
Both his farms were certified as the world’s first elephant friendly farms.
Tenzing hosts in his farm almost 100 tourists every year from across the world. People from Germany, China, Australia and UK come to see the first elephant friendly farm in the world.
The animals damage the crops and plants sometimes. “That’s okay,” says Tenzing. He has grown up in a village and love animals. The land belongs to them too, he believes and doesn’t mind when a few plants are destroyed by them.
It is inspiring to see someone cross all obstacles and work while safeguarding the environment. Our nature – its trees, plants and animals – makes our surrounding beautiful. Without them, the world would be nothing but bricks and mortar.
Tenzing has overcome whatever life threw at him. He is an example of what can be achieved with determination, strong will and humility.
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