Climate Impacts Food Security for Tea Smallholders

WTN161206_FAO Smallholders_AssamTeaGarden

Assam tea garden. Photo courtesy FAO/N. Gupta.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), a strong advocate for smallholders globally, is warning of serious impacts due to climate change in its latest report on the state of global agriculture.

The FAO promotes tea cultivation as an important source of revenue on land that does not crowd out food crops. “Tea is the major contributor to the livelihood of millions of rural smallholders,” writes Kaison Chang, secretary of FAO’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea.

He said tea production brought $14 billion to the farm gate in 2014 with world trade estimated at $5.61 billion. These earnings “contribute significantly to financing the food import bills of tea-exporting countries. For example, in Kenya and Sri Lanka, export earnings, of $1.15 billion and $1.63 billion, respectively, financed more than 60% of Kenya’s and 63.8% of Sri Lanka’s food import bills in 2014.”

Food security has taken on a new urgency according to findings in The State of Food and Agriculture 2016. Cereal crop yields are falling and climate changes are leading to a loss of nutritional content of some foods. Adverse impacts of higher temperatures are sharply skewed toward developing countries, pointing to dimmer prospects for their food self-sufficiency, according to FAO.

“There is no doubt climate change affects food security,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said while presenting The State of Agriculture report. “What climate change does is to bring back uncertainties from the time we were all hunter gatherers. We cannot assure any more that we will have the harvest we have planted.”

That uncertainty also translates into volatile food prices, he noted. “Everybody is paying for that, not only those suffering from droughts.”

WTN161206_FAO Smallholders_State of Agriculture_coverTea growers are experiencing lower yields and increased management costs for developing coping strategies, writes Kaison Chang. “Climate change impacting local weather conditions (prominently changing rainfall trends resulting in frequent flood and droughts besides increase in temperature, changes in relative humidity and sunshine hours) further exacerbates the situation,” he writes.

A universal approach for identification and recommendation of tea cultivation practices is not practical, according to R.M. Bhagat, FAO deputy director and tea working group coordinator. “It is essential to develop country or regional specific adaptation measures for combating risks of climate change while sharing knowledge among tea growing nations,” he writes.

A close observation of weather trends suggests that in some regions tea-growing areas may be extended to newer areas and ecosystems, and the growing/flushing period can be lengthened in subtropical regions. Bhagat concludes: “Community involvement and technology extension are necessary to implement government policies and apply climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. Promotion of indigenous knowhow on this subject also needs to be integrated with new scientific mitigation and adaptation technologies.”

The FAO The State of Agriculture report underscores that success in transforming food and agriculture systems will largely depend on urgently supporting smallholders in adapting to climate change.

Developing countries are home to around half a billion smallholder farm families who produce food and other agricultural products in greatly varying agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions. Solutions have to be tailored to those conditions; there is no one-size-fits-all fix, said da Silva.

Source: Report of FAO Tea Working Group on Climate Change and The State of Food and Agriculture 2016.