The story of Tenzing Bodosa of Assam, India, is proof that farms can be productive, profitable and friendly to elephants.
As reported in The Better India, his farm has been certified as the world's first elephant-friendly tea farm. The write:
"The most interesting part of his farm is the buffer zone, which is the area at the end of his farm from where the jungle begins at the Bhutan border. He has left that part of the farm as is. He does not cut down the trees or start a fire there, instead he has planted bamboo trees on which the wild elephants feed. He has also not put any barriers in and around his plantation, so that the wild animals from the jungle can freely move in his farm.
"At times, you can see at least 70-80 wild elephants in his farm."
Tenzing grows organically, and grows multiple crops on the land. He calls it "intercropping."
"According to Tenzing, tea companies mislead farmers to grow only tea on their farms. Indian climate is suitable for growing anything from apples to strawberries and from tea to rice, but the farmers don’t intercrop. This is because when you use chemicals, it is difficult to grow consumable fruits in the same farm and the soil slowly becomes infertile, as microorganisms also die due to pesticides. But if farmers grow organically, then all the seasonal fruits, vegetables and even paddy can be grown in the same tea farm. This makes the farmers self sufficient. Moreover, growing one’s own food will ensure that there is enough food for everyone and farmers can get a chance to export their produce for bigger benefits. He also urges the urban population to learn the basics of farming and grow as much they can on their rooftops or balconies. This will increase the food security of the nation and thus, the government will help the farmers to export too. Also, it’s only if one grows organically will the entire ecosystem get back into place."
Coffee farmers in south India also intercrop. But in Coorg, where we shot our film "Elephants in the Coffee," the farmers seem obsessed with driving elephants out of their farms. Perhaps they could talk to Tenzing to see if a new approach might work for both farmer and elephant.
Dr. Thomas Grant
Professor of Journalism at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College