Back in March this year, I wrote a blog for The Tea Centre, highlighting climate issues facing tea growers in Zhejiang & Yunnan Provinces, China, especially drought. The same effects of our ever change climate are now creating problems for growers in North east India and Sri Lanka.
There’s no need for me to attempt offering you a scientific explanation of El Niño or counterpart La Niña; there’s enough out there for you to read on these phenomena. Every day now we have statements from our political leaders on how climate change isn’t the future, it’s now. The US President Barrack Obama announced a renewed focus for the Whitehouse and US policy on climate change as reported by The Washington Post on the 5th May.
I’d like to bring your attention to the people who grow and produce something very dear to our hearts – a good cup of tea and the struggle they are facing today as they watch their plants suffer because of our changing climate, alongside the inevitable affects on volume and so the cost of the final market product, tea leaf.
In many parts of the tea producing world, growers depend on a good productive harvest from their spring pick. Generally this is the flush of leaves, which will create the profits for the growers and make their gardens sustainable. Reduce the rainfall by up to 50% as has happened in Assam and Darjeeling this year or have up to a 70% reduction in available leaf as is predicted by China’s tea growers, you can see it’s an issue. We can expect rising prices for tea from many parts of the world, suffering the effects of climate change.
Mr. Rajah Bannerjee of Makaibari Tea Estate, Darjeeling, explained to me; that as early as February the tell tale signs of problems were starting to appear; tiny red spiders on leaves, telling Darjeeling growers of hard times ahead. During March and April there was very little rain, and by mid-April the bushes were under stress. The highly prized first flush pick only yielded 40% of normal harvest. Then, with outbreaks of forest fires, the community (including global volunteers who were staying with Makaibari homestay’s), banded together to fight these infernos.The second flush pick is being met with more positive intent and hope for a good harvest.
Mr. Ashish Phookan, of Konyak Tea, Baruangar Tea Estate, Assam also said to me “Even though the rains have started to arrive, we are drastically down on the rain fall levels of last year. Our production has taken a hit, with April manufacture being down by as much as 70% and it’s a similar story across all other Assam gardens.”
Mr. Ron Duarah reported in the Assam Tribute on the 25th April, “Since the beginning of this year, adverse weather conditions have been playing havoc on the tea crops in both Assam and North Bengal. Of considerable concern has been the dry and drought-like conditions continuing through the current month”.
Roopak Goswami reported in The Telegraph India on the 23rd April, “Drought-like conditions prevailing over Assam and North Bengal are likely to push up the cost of tea production, the Indian Tea Association has warned”. Goswami also reports that the pending second flush crop will now be delayed.
One institute I visited in early February this year is certainly at the forefront of research in to new plant cultivation. The plants they are developing today will help the tea industry deal with the ever-changing set of circumstances they have to face. The Tocklai Research Station in Assam was the world’s first and oldest scientific institute for the development of tea. Hopefully the training and development courses run by Tocklai; will assist managers of tea estates to better prepare and adjust their practises for the future.