Kenya’s Tea Farmers Suffering From Climate Change

Fall is supposed to be the time when the weather starts getting nippy.   The leaves are turning and falling, pumpkin spice is in every product known to man, and Halloween is fast approaching to the delight of many a school children who love candy and adults (such as me and my friends) who are obsessed with horror and mystery.

But with climate change consistently on the rise, perhaps to an irreparable extent, tea farmers in Kenya are starting to suffer.

Farmers around the world are facing the issues and feeling the impact of severe droughts.   According to Steve Baragona, writer for Voice of America (VOA) News, in Kenya, tea farmers are being told not to rely on tea alone for their livelihoods.   Imagine that distressing news, to know that you cannot rely on your original livelihood that you might have fallen in love with, because the planet is starting to suffer from the effects of pollution?   I could only imagine the anger those farmers must feel. both tea farmers and farmers of other products.

Kenya is the world’s third-largest tea producer, exporting $1.3 billion worth in 2013.   It’s the country’s largest export industry. But they’re already starting to see effects from climate change.   The sun is getting so hot for the plants, that the tea is getting damaged.   The rain falls are harder to predict due to the changes.   Frost bite is becoming common for the plants.   Plus, the effects from bugs and insects (I know you have faced the fury of mosquitoes that seems to be getting worse as time goes on).

So, tea farmers are not sitting down and accepting this.   They are changing to meet the challenge.   Fields not only contain tea – they also contain vegetables and livestock.   Lemonade from lemons I suppose.

All that being said, I feel like we need to do more as a planet to fight climate change.   It’s here.   We are facing the issues at hand.   There’s only so many times that we can use Ecosia (which I do advocate), or recycle so many products, before we realize we really need to amp up our game.   Keep doing those things.   Reduce, reuse, then recycle.   Invest in sustainable products which will be good for the environment and, in the long run, your pocket as well.   Don’t litter, even cigarette butts (though tiny, they have a huge impact).

Farmers are already starting to alter their methods to accommodate.   Let’s work to keep everything – tea included – safe from the long-lasting harm of climate change.

Climate Change Affecting Your Tea

First, and most importantly, I want to give a huge shout-out to my mommy on her birthday!   She has been putting up with my brother for almost 30 years and with me for almost 27 years.   Definitely a saint 🙂   I hope she has a very happy birthday today!

My Mommy And Daddy At My Brother's Wedding

My Mommy And Daddy At My Brother’s Wedding

Now, on to tea…

We all have at least heard of climate change.   Polar bears being stuck on small ice sheets slowly melting into the ocean.   The world having more drastic weather patterns.   We need to start reversing the effects.

Whatever your thoughts on climate change, whether it is man-made or normal weather pattern shifts, or if it is even happening, Science magazine states that the climate is affecting our tea.

Selena Ahmed is an ethnobotanist (one who studies the relationship that exists between people and plants) at Montana State University in Bozeman.   Right now, she is over in China’s Yunnan province to see how climate change is affecting the taste of their tea.

The reasoning behind all of this?   The mix of phyochemicals responsible for the taste in tea may be more sensitive to the constant change of the climate than the yield of the actual crop.   So, while the Yunnan province farmers might be having a huge crop each year, the crop might not taste as good.   The rainfall is highly important to the tea process.   More rain will mean that the tea grows faster, which may sound like a good thing, but that means that the quality of the tea goes down.   Before the monsoon season in China, the tea can fetch $680 per kilogram.   However, after the rainy season, the price drops to $405.

Due to climate change, the temperature in Yunnan’s capital has climbed 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 50 years and monsoon season has been arriving later.   In 2011, is arrived 22 days later than in 1980.

This change in the weather has also allowed some less-than-ideal pests, such as caterpillars and tea mosquitoes, to raid the tea plants and destroy the leaves that brew the tea in the first place.   This raises the pesticide use to try and combat these pests, which in turn affects the consumer.   Ten Ren, for example, was cited by the FDA for having pesticide-tainted tea.   What is one to do if their crop is being eaten before it can even be picked?

To study this relationship, Ahmed traveled to Yunnan, which is known for its pu-erh tea (a personal favorite of mine.   Earthy and almost like drinking a rich coffee).   This four-year project, backed by the U.S. National Science Foundation, will examine the linkage among climate change, tea quality, and farmer livelihood.

Hopefully, the planet can be saved soon and the effects of global warming turned around even faster.   After all, as far as I know, Earth is the only place to get a good cuppa.   Let’s make sure we keep it preserved.