Industry Market Trends

Climate Change Makes Tea Harvesters Bitter

Mar 09, 2012

Recent reports illustrate how climate change is requiring farmers to alter their harvest methods.

A recent Agence France-Presse report illustrates how climate change requires farmers to alter their harvest methods. Rooibos, a long-popular South African tea that has recently been introduced as a sweet, calorie-conscious beverage option in the West, is grown in the extremely dry and hot conditions of western South Africa, where temperatures can reach 118°F (48°C) in the winter. Tea estate Groenkol Rooibus owner Willem Engelbrecht says rising temperatures and hotter winters have necessitated harvesting changes.

"In the past, we used to plough the soil," Engelbrecht told AFP. "[T]hese days, we plough less and we keep material on the soil to act as isolation, basically to preserve the moisture."

This report follows in the wake of other stories noting the effects of climate change on world tea supply. Tea harvested in India has developed a different taste, according to tea farmers in Assam. Dhiraj Kakaty, head of the Assam Branch Indian Tea Association, has noticed that the weather is also affecting crop yields.

"Days with sunshine were far fewer during the (monsoon) rains this year, leading to a shortfall in production and damp weather unfavorable for tea," Kakaty said in an Associated Press report. He also noted that the weather is more favorable to pests who feed on his crops. "A pest called the tea mosquito bug multiplies in damp and cloudy weather and attacks fresh shoots of the tea bush, preventing the plant's regeneration."

One viable alternative crop for farmers facing climate change-related issues is the cassava root, according to scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. Calling it "the Rambo of food crops," scientists presented test results showing the cassava to outperform potatoes, maize, beans, bananas, millet and sorghum in climate predictive tests. As the Washington Post notes, the researchers posit that these results prove the cassava root, also known as yuca, to be a viable alternative for African farmers facing climate change conditions.

Meanwhile, scientists at Purdue University have offered a simple, if grim, recommendation to farmers: change your farms to crops better suited to warmer, more humid climates.