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 the Nilgiris, there are 63,000 small tea growers cultivating more than 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) of tea. In 2019, production declined nearly 20%. Local planters blame these unusually high losses on climate change. The year began with a severe winter with frost until February. It takes frost-damaged bushes months to recover. April-May brought a severe summer temperature inhibiting leaf production and putting the plants under additional stress. Gardens along the western slopes of the Nilgiris that depend on the southwest monsoon for rain received instead a deluge, causing severe erosion of topsoil. “The region around Avalanchi received almost three years of annual rainfall in only about 3-4 days this year,” said HN Sivan, founder-president of the Nilgiris Nelikolu Micro & Small Tea Growers and Farmers’ Development Society (NSTF). Meanwhile, tea gardens on the eastern slopes that depend on the northeast monsoon faced a drought, with too little rain and too much sun. The average number of rainy days has decreased from 115 to 95 in the last decade.
- 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.
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.