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07/08/2013

Indian tea producers worry climate change will stunt production

Screen shot 2013-07-08 at 10.00.01 AM

Indian workers harvesting tea. (Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri)

It's easy to cobble together a list of the ways climate change can impact our daily lives.

Sea levels are rising, leading to increased flooding, and the world seems to be experiencing more unpredictable weather patterns. The crispy outside temperature in the summer can lead to more skin cancer, and, on a less ominous note, higher costs for air conditioning.

Now there's evidence to suggest climate change is also impacting the harvest of tea in a belweather country.

The production of tea is suffering in Assam. The north-east Indian state grows more than half of the tea produced in the country. It produced 590 million kilograms of tea in 2012, while India’s entire production was 1,126 million kg.

But in June, temperatures eclipsed 40 degrees Celcius, up from the average of 30 to 35 degrees, India's Down To Earth magazine reports. At one point, the June temperature reached 48 degrees.
“High temperatures result in stunted growth of the tea plant," D P Maheswari, chairperson of the Tea Research Association and owner of Jayashree Group, told the magazine. "There might be a 10-15 per cent crop loss for the month; what is more damaging is that the 2nd flush is top quality tea."

According to the India Meteorological department, rainfall from June 1 to June 19 was 66 per cent below normal.

"Trends show rainfall has declined by 200 mm over the past 90 years in Assam," Rajiv Bhagat, deputy director at the Tocklai Experimentation Station of the Tea Research Association told Down To Earth. "Both minimum and maximum temperatures show a rising trend with an increase of over 1.5°C in the past 90 years."

Interestingly, the price of tea has not surged with worries about a drop in production.

According to The Hindu, an Indian daily newspaper, tea prices this year have actually dropped amid a decline in demand. Pakistan, the paper said, is buying tea from Kenya while markets in Egypt and Europe have either disappeared or declined because of economic downturns.

Tea is the world’s most widely consumed beverage after water, and  global consumption of the drink is expected to outpace coffee in the long run, according to a 2011 report.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at The Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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