Tea is one of the most important cash crops worldwide, playing a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction and food security. It is grown in 58 countries worldwide, much of it in Asia and Africa. I am privileged to lead a constituency that contributes tea for export.
The total land area under tea cultivation is 4.37 million hectares, with an annual production of 5.30 million tonnes.
On April 23, Daily Monitor published an auction report by the East African Tea Export Auction Mombasa revealing Uganda – the region’s second largest exporter – with the highest export margin of 43 per cent increase when it sold a total of 1.4 million kg up from 0.8 million kgs exported last year.
George William Ssekitooleko, the general secretary of Uganda Tea Association, explained the current increase in production. Uganda exported about 71 million kgs of tea in 2018. Increased production is due to a combination of factors, including a conducive environment increased tea acreage. The basic environmental requirements for tea growth and development are pronounced changes in temperature, precipitation, relative humidity, rainy days and annual sunlight which will not only affect tea yield and quality but change other basic parameters necessary for its growth such as soil ph, water content and organic matter.
While I scrolled through an online e-publication, Global Tea Science 2018, the mean air temperature in East Africa is predicted to increase by about 2.5°C by 2025 and 3.4°C by 2075, while rainfall is predicted to increase by about 2 per cent by 2025 and 11 per cent by 2075. These conditions and altitude, greatly influence the suitability of an area for tea growth.
Overall, the suitability of tea-growing areas is expected to decline by 22.5 per cent by 2075. Suitable areas will shift up the altitudinal gradient: Those retaining some suitability will see decreases between 20 per cent and 40 per cent compared to today’s suitability of 60 per cent to 80 per cent in Uganda. In Eastern Africa, up to 40 per cent yield loss is expected due to the reduction in suitable environment caused by temperature rise.
Mr Ssekitooleko explains effects of climate change such as prolonged drought or heavy rains affect yield of tea and quality where leaves harvested either contain too much water or very little water and so is the chemical composition of the leaves. Also, during severe droughts, tea bushes dry completely. Shifting timing of seasons makes the farmers unable to plan properly for their crop, for instance, when to apply fertilisers. Infrastructure like roads become impassable during too much rain hence making it difficult to transport the harvested leaves and delayed transportation of the same to the factory affects the quality of made tea.
In addition, too much rains coming in a very short period erode soils and nutrients in the soil that should have been available for the tea leaves. The plucking rate is also slowed by too much rain.Coping with the changes in temperatures and rainfall comes with added expenses to maintain tea production at profitable levels.
The e-publication explains the variations in tea productivity under changing climatic conditions including rain, temperature and carbon dioxide. The positive impacts include an increase in green leaf during short rainy days and relative humidity, and the adverse effects are a decrease in leaf during periods of extremes, such as drought, flood and extremely cold and hot weather. These adverse climate changes will cause serious problems for tea production and sustainable development. The impact of the reduction of sunny days will depend on the degree of change and the location.
Tea generally exhibits a positive interaction between rainfall and temperature because its production depends on stable temperatures and consistent rainfall patterns. Diminishing rainfall reduces tea yields, but this depends on its distribution over time. During long rains, tea production is lower when compared with short rains. This is due to long rainy periods reducing sunshine and the photosynthesis of tea leaves. Extreme rainfall events such as floods and droughts will also negatively affect tea yield.
Climate has an effect on crop pests’ infestation. Warmer weather helps insects and pathogens to survive because this is a critical time for their reproduction. Thus, lengthening the damaging period on the crop by increasing the number of annual generations and reproduction rates in some pests.
Lastly, government needs to provide supportive policy regulation and legislation for the tea sector, including establishing a regulatory authority, improving budgetary provisions and subsidies to the producers, processors and exporters. Also enhance adaptation measures such as irrigation and improved caged transportation of tea.
Mr Magyezi is the Member of Parliament
for Igara West Constituency.