Climate change is wreaking havoc in the world’s largest tea-growing area

Waiting for help to arrive.
Waiting for help to arrive.
Image: Reuters/Ahmad Masood
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Tea is grown from Pembrokeshire in Wales to Waikato in New Zealand. But something about the conditions in valleys of Assam in India makes its tea one of the most loved around the world. Now this favorite source of a cuppa from the world’s largest tea-growing area is under threat because of climate change.

The region’s first harvest in February is flagrant and flowery, and the second—its most prized—is spicy and malt-flavored. But beyond its wonderful flavors, what makes the Assam region special is the perfect range of temperature, good soil conditions, and predictable rainfall. However, over the past 100 years, the average temperature has risen by 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit) and annual rainfall has decreased by 20cm (7.87 inches).

Furthermore, especially in the last 30 years, the rainfall has also become unpredictable. ”Sometimes there’s too much rainfall, and at other times not enough,” RM Bhagat, chief scientist at the Tea Research Association (TRA), told the New Scientist.

Warming helps pests such as tea mosquito bugs that infest the plants’ shoots. To stop them from lowering yields, farmers are being forced to use more pesticide, which in turn raises production costs and increases health risks.

The result is that tea exports fell by 16% in the last financial year, according to India’s commerce ministry. What makes it worse is that tea prices have remained stagnant because of competition from Kenya and Sri Lanka.

The solution may lie in better water management, according to research by TRA and the University of Southampton. Some tea planters are increasing vegetation cover to stem the loss of water from evaporation and using vacant land for creating water bodies. There is also hope that breeding tea varieties adapted to the new climate might help.