Climate Change Threatens Kenyan Tea Production

Published Jun 30, 2021
According to a report published by Christian Aid, a British charity organization, climate change is set to hamper tea production in Kenya, the largest supplier of black tea. Rising temperatures and extreme rainfall in the country will also threaten the livelihoods of millions of plantation workers. Climate change in tea-growing regions in Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, and China could also affect tea quality globally.

Tridge interviewed Christine Simon, a black tea trader and marketer from Kenya, to gain further insight. Simon runs Buy Kenyan Tea, an international tea exporting and promotion enterprise located in Mombasa, Kenya.

Kenyan Black Tea

Production set to fall

Kenya, a global black tea powerhouse, is under threat from climate change. It is expected that optimal tea growing conditions will be reduced by 26% by 2050. Tea production in Kenya’s average tea-growing areas is likely to fall by 39% by 2050. Rising temperatures in the country will increase by 2.5 degrees Celsius between 2000 and 2050. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, Kenya’s yearly and monthly rainfall and mean air temperatures are forecast to rise moderately by 2025. The trend is set to continue till 2075. Climate changes will also affect the quality of the tea. Increasing rain will alter the subtle flavors of the tea leaf and potentially reduce its health benefits.

The East African country is likely to see the tea production areas with optimal and medium tea-growing conditions reduce by about 25% and 40% respectively by 2050. Climatic changes are also making it difficult for tea growers to move into new, previously uncultivated regions. According to a United Nations survey of 700 growers in all seven of Kenya’s tea regions, changes were observed in rainfall patterns, distribution, and declining yields due to climate change. Over 40% of respondents stated they noticed changes in rainy and dry seasons, which led to shifts in the planting season, while 35% cited drought.

A tea plantation in the Kenyan highlands

“Yes, tea production will be under threat in the country if climatic conditions continue to shift. I think it's an extremely unfortunate affair that's affecting many industries in different ways. Many growers have begun to observe the damage,” explained Simon.

Rainfall is set to become more intense and less predictable. Even the slightest increase in droughts will present significant challenges for food security and water availability, especially in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid areas in the north and east.

Recommendations for the future

Ahead of crucial U.N. climate talks in Glasgow in November 2021, campaigners call for nations to reduce carbon emissions, cancel the debts of developing countries such as Kenya, and mobilize climate finance to help countries adapt. Simon noted that tea producers in the country are trying to adapt to the situation by looking into other energy alternatives for tea production.

“Tea factories have historically been the biggest institutional firewood users so you can imagine the damage. Some private companies in conjunction with the government and NGOs are now working in partnership towards biomass energy in the form of Briquettes, Bagasse, and Bamboo,” commented Simon.


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