Growing tea isn’t monkey business. Unless the primates make it a business to change lives forever.
Villagers in the Naduar-Sotea-Jamuguri belt of Sonitpur district, Assam had always been at war with the armies of rhesus macaques. The monkeys destroyed their crops, raided kitchens and attacked their children; in retaliation, they killed them.
The monkeys would attack during the day and retreat by nightfall to the adjoining Naduar Reserve Forest.
That was before Anwar Nasir of Tukia village decided to transform his agricultural field to a small tea ‘garden’ in the mid-1990s. “We had to grow something monkeys don’t like,” said the secretary of the area’s small tea growers’ association.
Assam has some 60,000 small tea growers part of the beverage industry worth Rs 850 crore (Rs 8.5 billion).
Nasir’s idea clicked; the monkeys kept off his farm. It did not take long for others in Tukia to follow suit.
“Today, some 400 households spread across 900 sq km are growing tea and prosperously so. Most monkeys have returned to the forests. The few that loiter seem content with feeding on seeds of neem and guava,” teacher-planter Deepak Saikia told HT from Tukia.
The switch virtually solved the area’s unemployment problem. “It’s difficult to find an educated unemployed here, and almost every farmer owns a car and a building,” he added.
The story is no different at Naduar, some 230 km from Guwahati. “Had it not been for the monkeys, we might not have been enjoying this success and ensuring a source of income for over 1,000 adivasi (tribals) and Nepalese workers,” said Prasanta Bhagawati, chief of Naduar tea growers’ union.