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The Changing Climate of Tea Production pt.1

It's rather unfortunate that climate change has been so politically loaded because it's turned what should be a question of scientific method and findings into Left vs. Right.  People have the right to be sceptical, and if fact, they should be - only in asking tough questions do we make sure we have high quality information on which to act and make decisions. While I think it is generally accepted that climate change is real, I think the public and policy makers tend to avoid it simply because it is so complex and there are no easy solutions. I like to think of the climate (and other earth systems) as a complex machine with many moving parts that all interact - throw a wrench in one gear and the whole machine will have to shift and re-calibrate.

Going back to the basics, what is climate change? In a report on the effects of climate change to Kenya's tea productions the FAO defines it as:

"Climate change is a transformation of average weather conditions or the spread of climatic events beyond the average (e.g. less or more prevalent extreme weather events), primarily as a result of global warming. Gas emissions contribute to the GHG effect on the earth’s surface, with the largest source emanating from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas, petrol, kerosene, etc.), leading to the emission of carbon dioxide. Not only has carbon dioxide into the environment increased dramatically over the past 50 years, it has also raised weather temperatures.” (p.32)

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes in their 2014 summary report for policy makers that the effects of climate will include:

-Rising surface temperatures

-Increased intensity and frequency of precipitation and weather events

-Rising ocean temperatures

-Rising acidity of oceans

-Rising sea levels

So, what does this mean for tea productions, and agriculture in general? And that's a really difficult, complicated, and ultimately impossible question (remember all those interacting gears?) to answer fully.  But we can guess, and probably guess very well.  The short answer is that it depends where you are - the effects of climate change on the tea production in say Kenya, China, Southern India, and Darjeeling will all vary - some locations might see an increase in production, while in others it will decrease. Even within a more specific geographic region the many interacting parts of a microclimate can create very different climate characteristics even within the same general area. 

The biggest problem for agriculture caused by climate change is the intense variability we see year-to-year; as the overall climate system is shifting there can be intense contrast in day-to-day, and year-to-year weather patterns.  This is one of the great weaknesses of climate science and climate prediction models; it is based primarily of 30 year averages, which is wonderful if you're studying very long term trends, but gives us no indication of what weather might be like on the ground.  Any change in precipitation patterns, temperature ranges, available solar energy and weather events is going to impact crop yield, while the overall resilience of the ecosystem will depend on the crop type and variability of the weather.

In part two we'll get into specifics of the Darjeeling region, especially how climate change is expected to effect El Nino and Monsoon patterns, both of which heavily influence Darjeeling's climate. Stay posted! 

Freya Bauer
Freya Bauer


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