Tea Board of India Brings Climate Change Fund to Small Tea Growers

The Brahmaputra River annually inundates large areas in its flood plain inflicting 15-20% crop damage in the most productive tea growing areas in North East India. Waterlogging (Fig 1-8a-c, above) is one of the major abiotic stresses which affect the growth and survival of plant. The collage depicts surface waterlogging, localized water logging and profile water logging in tea plantations in Northeast India. Bank erosion (8f) is another major concern triggered by flood events. (Photo courtesy of FAO/TRA Tocklai)

The Tea Board of India has been granted access to the Climate Change Adaptation Fund through the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development. As part of this plan, $17 million (INR125 crore) will be available to assist 50,000 small tea growers in five states across India over a four-year period. 

The five states are the major tea growing areas of West Bengal (Darjeeling, Dooars and Terai), Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris), Kerala (Munnar and Vandiperiyar), Assam, and Himachal Pradesh (Kangra valley) will be supported in the first phase of its implementation.

TeaBoard Director of Tea Development S. Soundararajan said the focus is fundingclimate adaptations such as improvements to drainage systems, planting shadetrees, large scale watershed development by community, building irrigationsystems and implementing integrated pest management systems.

“Thescheme will focus on improving the income levels of the farmers by focusing onquality and marketing, which will enable the farmers to earn more to follow theclimate adaptation measures,” he said.

BijoyChakraborty of the Confederation of the Indian Small Tea Growers Association,added, “Small tea growers have been affected with crop loss and an increase inproduction cost. There is a drastic change in weather conditions over the lastten years and we have seen sudden heavy rains that cause floods, hailstorms,mist, and these invite new pests. We need a new irrigation system but alsoclimate-friendly tea bushes and shade trees. Weather forecast tools at asubsidized rate will be useful for us.” 

Hereis why the action is considered urgent:

  • In Assam, India’s highest tea producing region flooding in theBrahmaputra River valley resulted in severe waterlogging. Accordingto a report by the FAO (2016),in Assam, “Every yearabout 15-20% crop is damaged due to surface waterlogging, localized waterlogging and profile water logging in tea plantation areas of north east India.Bank erosion is another major concern triggered by flood events. There areseveral tea gardens along the left bank of river Lohit and Brahmaputra fromHatikhuli to Rohmoria in Dibrugarh District of Assam, which are already foundto be eroded due to flood events.”
  • InDarjeeling, changing weather is changing the flavor of teas. Long timeloyalists detect shifting quality in the flavors of Darjeeling tea. Tea bushesthrive in a temperature range of 65o-86oF (18o-30oC). Production is affected when temperatures exceed 90oF(32oC) or drop below 55oF (13oC). Mongabay India reports that PranabKumar Biswas, who runs the Centre for Mitigation of Climate Change and GlobalWarming in Siliguri, said there has been 17.6 percent departure of rainfallfrom 1901 to 2015, based on his climate study spanning one hundred years.
Annual average temperatures have shown a steady increase. During the past 100 years the average minimum temperature has increased by about 1.3 °C in North east India. Annual average maximum temperature has also shown similar trends. (Photo courtesy of FAO/TRA Tocklai)

Increasedtemperatures make the tea bushes more vulnerable to pests. Infestations of thered spider mite, the teamosquito bugs (Helopeltis sp.) and looper caterpillars (Achaea janata) haveassumed troubling proportions—all attributed to changing climate. One challenge is toprevent indiscriminate use of pesticides to combat these infestations.

Shiftingto organic production is one technique for combating climate change. Usingpruning litter and vegetative mulch, growing shade trees, rainwater harvesting,and crop diversification are part of this conversation but for small teagrowers, the problem can be particularly overwhelming to navigate, bothfinancially and by way of information know-how. Upamanyu Borkakoty of Tea LeafTheory that works with small tea growers said, “Organic farming could be amodel for small farmers who are also manufacturing the processed tea. Those whosell green leaves can’t afford the organic certification.”

In 2016, Tata Global (TGBL) had commissioned the TeaResearch Association to study the impact of climate change on Assam’s tea growing regions (Upper Assam, South Bank, NorthBank and Cachar). The study predicts that unless adaptation measures wereundertaken, the regions will be increasingly less suited to grow tea, giving ituntil 2050 at best. The North Bank region was particularly vulnerable toclimate change. According to the study, “Both minimum and maximumtemperatures were found to increase across all the major tea-growing regions ofAssam, which will have an impact on the suitability of tea in a particularregion. Rainfall is likely to reduce in the first quarter of the year and theamount of precipitation is likely to increase during monsoon in the four majortea-growing regions of Assam. Seasonality of precipitation was found to havethe biggest influence the suitability of tea growth in a particular region.”

The wakeup call has long since arrived and the Indian tea industry mustrespond if it hopes to survive climate change and its consequences.

Sources:Hindu BusinessLine, The Sentinel (Assam),Mongabay India,Down to Earth