FAO Addresses Climate Change and Production Obstacles

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

The 20th session of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) meeting on tea focused this week on several major issues facing the industry.

These include maximum residue level of pesticides in tea, the impact of climate change, fostering market development and tea production in a world where rising demand is spurring competition.

More than 100 delegates from 25 countries participated in the two-day discussions.

Five major producers, India, China, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Turkey on Tuesday agreed to formal discussion on climate change. Initially this will consist of sharing information and weighing steps to minimize the impact of erratic, sometimes violent weather patterns and uneven rainfall.

Costs of systems such as irrigation have proved an obstacle due to the fact that in many producing countries the majority of tea is harvested by small holders. In Sri Lanka, for example, 76 percent of the tea is grown on small farms. Installing modern irrigation systems in steep-sided growing regions is challenging and beyond the means of growers.

Increasing worldwide production is another concern. With few exceptions tea production in most tea-growing countries is rising as more acreage is planted and efficiencies lead to higher yields. Supplies worldwide are thin despite this growth as demand for tea is shifting from the lowest grades to more palatable teas. Western Europe, Russia and North American markets are seeking value added teas and branded teas and bottled teas are emerging in countries with a growing middle class. The result is uneven distribution. Production of orthodox teas throughout India is challenged by rising preference for green teas in traditional Middle Eastern countries and Russia.

Tea cultivars resistant to drought are another topic under discussion. In dry conditions the prized tea leaves that first sprout are limited in number and often substandard. Drought-resistant hybrids are under development in India at the Tocklai Tea Research Station and Sri Lanka’s Tea Research Institute. The goal is to breed plants that retain water for longer periods. In wet areas pests are a growing problem as warm temperatures enlarge the habitat of insects.  Residue from custom pesticides and herbicides to combat these threats new are new to the market. Regulators in various countries have imposed different rules for residue that can make it hard to market tea.

Harvesting is another concern as labor costs are increasing and many young people no longer follow their parent’s into the fields. Technology is viewed as essential in bringing down production costs as the Japanese have demonstrated but keeping large numbers of workers employed in Africa and India is a political issue.

Source: The Hindu