Kenyan tea and climate change: trouble brewing

26 May, 2011 by (comments)

CIAT climate predictions redraw the map of one of the country’s most important cash crops.

Thousands of smallholder farmers in Kenya could be forced to abandon tea production if new climate predictions for the country come true.

New CIAT research shows that many current tea producing areas in the country face “serious” challenges in the coming years, and will struggle to cope with expected temperature rises of up to 2.3 degrees Celsius by 2050.

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Based on the combined results of 20 climate prediction and crop suitability models, Future Climate Scenarios for Kenya’s Tea Growing Areas gives the most authoritative picture yet of what the future could hold for one of Kenya’s most important cash crops, and an industry that employs tens of thousands of people in growing, picking and processing.

It predicts that as climate change brings increases in both average temperatures and rainfall, Kenya’s optimum tea producing zone will to shift up to 500m uphill by 2050. Those farmers at lower elevations are likely to face a decline in tea suitability, production, and quality, and eventually increased pest and disease pressure.

The report expects that Nandi District, on the border of the Great Rift Valley, is likely to be most seriously affected, with an estimated 40 per cent slump in tea suitability. Farmers there, and in other affected areas will have to consider switching to less lucrative but more suitable crops, such as cabbage, maize, pea, passion fruit and banana. Others will be able to continue producing tea, but will need to adopt new farming practices and more resistant varieties.

The report also finds that in some regions – particularly the mid-altitude areas of Mount Kenya – tea suitability is likely to increase. At even higher altitudes, where tea is not currently grown, production will also become favourable, but the report recommends against the clearing of forests and protected areas to establish tea plantations.

Despite the threats to tea production and livelihoods, report author Anton Eitzinger said there are still reasons to be optimistic: “Climate change brings not only bad news but also a lot of potential,” he said. “Fortunately there is time for farmers to adapt production so that they are prepared not just for progressive climate change, but the short-term climate fluctuations as well.”

The Ethical Tea Council and German International Cooperation (GIZ), who funded the study, have now formed a three-year long public-private partnership in Kenya, to train up to 10,000 of the most vulnerable tea farmers in ways to prepare for the future.


As Anton mentions, there will also be some winners from climate change and its effect on tea production – have a quick look at the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog for at least one example.

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Filed Under: Africa @en, Climate Change, Regions