A new report from the charity Christian Aid on Monday showed that India along with other tea producing nations, are facing a host of climate related impacts such as rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, droughts and new insect infestations.
With its crucial role in the global market, the fate of the Indian tea sector has a major effect on tea drinkers around the world.
The report shows that Assam, the largest single tea growing region in the world, is particularly vulnerable with growers there already suffering from the impact of the climate crisis.
In a survey of producers in Assam, 88 per cent of plantation managers and 97 per cent of smallholders stated that the challenging climate conditions were a threat to growing and production of tea.
The changes in average temperature and rainfall patterns could lead to some traditional tea-growing regions of Assam in India becoming obsolete for tea cultivation.
More extreme bouts of heavy rainfall in Darjeeling and rising temperatures have also led to new and increased pests and insects, yet another challenge that tea farmers need to respond to.
The dire situation facing tea farmers in Assam and elsewhere has not gone unnoticed by some of the world’s biggest tea manufacturers. Tata, Unilever and Twinings as well as the Fairtrade Foundation all shared their concern about the impact climate change is having on their growers.
Sebastian Michaelis, Head of Tea International Tea Buying & Blending at Tata Tea, said the company had undergone research into the impact of climate change on Assam.
“Water is vital to sustain the future of the tea industry. Tea growing regions rely on the rainy seasons to keep their tea bushes healthy and productive, but it’s evident that seasonal rains are becoming more unpredictable and the impact this has on crop growth is far reaching; not least in loss of income of those employed at a local level on the farms,” he said.
A spokesperson from Twinings said: “We are aware that climate change is accelerating fast and poses a risk to smallholder tea farmers. As extreme weather and natural disasters continue to affect the sowing and growing of healthy crops, the people who supply the ingredients for our products will become ever more vulnerable.”
Per capita the biggest consumers of black tea is the UK and Ireland and the British government has an opportunity to help tackle climate change this year as it is hosting a crucial UN climate summit.
Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy lead, said: “This year the UK government has a key role in overseeing the global response to the climate emergency. As host of both the G7 in June and the COP26 climate summit in November, the UK can ensure that countries on the front line of this crisis can adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change.
“With countries starting to announce improved climate plans, there is a unique opportunity to accelerate cuts in emissions and boost the finance needed to help countries adapt to the changing climate.”
Fiachra Moloney of Unilever that makes Lipton and PG Tips said it was vital that COP26 was a success: “The climate crisis affects people all over the world. In East Africa, where so much of our tea comes from, climate change is putting the livelihoods of the people who grow tea for us at risk.
“As Unilever, we call on governments to bring forward ambitious climate targets, policies and plans ahead of COP26 that will help us all work together to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”
These sentiments were echoed by Richard Koskei, 72, a tea farmer from Kericho in Kenya’s western highlands.
“For generations we have carefully cultivated our tea farms and we are proud that the tea that we grow here is the best in the world. But climate change poses a real threat to us. We cannot predict seasons anymore, temperatures are rising, rainfall is more erratic, more often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts which was not the case in the past,” he said.
“People in my community will consider running way from tea farming, with jobs lost and consumers of tea might see the price rise. The low earnings have made the younger generations opt for other means of earning income.”
“Tea is an example of how we are all connected. We grow it here in Kenya and it’s enjoyed by people around the world. But if we are to carry on growing it we need those other, richer countries, to cut their emissions and to think about how we are affected as tea farmers,” Koskei added.
Karimi Kinoti, Head of Christian Aid’s Africa Division, said: “Africans make up 17 per cent of the world’s population but we generate just four per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that have caused the climate crisis. And yet it is we who are suffering the brunt of the impacts of climate change.
“Our tea industry is vital to our economy and employs more than three million people. And now it is under threat from climate change. Kenya faces a host of climate impacts, especially rising temperatures and droughts which compound other difficulties such as poverty and Covid-19.”
African climate change expert Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank, said: “As a major historical polluter and the creator of the industrial revolution the UK has played a big part in the climate emergency which we Kenyans are suffering from.
“This year, as hosts of the G7 and COP26, the UK has a big role to play in tackling it. Boris Johnson talks a lot about ‘Global Britain’ and this is his chance to actually back it up with action. The whole world will be watching, especially tea farmers and other people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.”