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Arunachal “tea lady” reason behind vanishing opium cultivation

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Guwahati: A native of a village in Arunachal Pradesh also called ‘tea lady’ by many, is successfully leading people to give up cultivation of opium on their land.

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.(IANS)

Next Story

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Hold Meeting To Counter Trafficking of Opiate

The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts.

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Opium
An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad province. VOA

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran have pledged to increase cooperation and information-sharing for effectively combating the trafficking of Afghan opiates.

War-shattered Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium, though the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime noted in its latest survey the opium cultivation decreased by 20 percent in 2018 due to a severe drought and reduced prices.

The illegal opiates are largely smuggled to international markets through Pakistan and Iran.

Need for more initiatives 

Afghan, Pakistan and Iranian counternarcotics officials concluded their two-day UNODC-facilitated interaction Wednesday in Islamabad, where delegates underscored the need for more efforts against the massive flow of illicit drugs.

Participants at the “Triangular Initiative” meeting called for timely sharing of information and conducting simultaneously interdiction operations along their shared largely porous borders.

oPIUM CULTIVATION
In this April 11, 2016, photo, farmers harvest raw opium at a poppy field in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. VOA

The forum was established in 2007 with a mission to promote regional cooperation to reduce the poppy cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of drugs in the region and beyond.

Officials acknowledged that despite Afghanistan’s political tensions with Pakistan and Iran anti-drugs cooperation largely continues.

Renewed attitude 

Cesar Guedes, UNODC representative in Pakistan, noted the three countries attended the Islamabad meeting with “a revived attitude and role”, raising prospects for more effective counternarcotics efforts in 2019.

“More needs to be done because the level of [Afghan opium] production has also increased. They need really to coordinate closer in their joint efforts,” he told VOA

Guedes also called for increased international assistance, saying Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran alone cannot curb the menace of drugs.

opium
FILE – Afghan farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2013. VOA

“This has to be done in the framework of shared responsibility. All the countries, producers, consumers and transit need to join the effort,” he said.

Despite many challenges facing the government, the head of the Afghan delegation said authorities have taken significant steps to eradicate drug trafficking.

US assistance 
Director General for Policy Planing at the Afghan Ministry of Narcotics, Mohammad Osman Frotan, said 89 percent of poppy cultivation this year has taken place in the Afghan provinces most hit by insurgent activities. He said counternarcotics authorities during 2018 have seized more than 433 tons of different types of drugs, and arrested and prosecuted almost 4,000 suspects.

Also Read: Pakistan In U.S. Blacklist For Religious Freedom Violations

The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts. But the effort has failed to stop opium production, which increased to record highs and stood at an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017. Critics blamed insecurity, rampant corruption and patronage by influential Afghans for the unprecedented growth. (VOA)