Tea growing regions across a wide expanse of China, including Yunnan Province, qualified for emergency government relief this week due to a severe drought.
The China National Commission for Disaster Reduction and the Ministry of Emergency Management (MEM) jointly declared Hubei Province at a level IV emergency due to unusually high temperatures and sparse rainfall. The declaration covers 1.96 million acres (793,333 hectares) under food crops and tea.
Drinking water is inaccessible to 15,700 residents who are struggling to provide for 3,000 domestic animals. Rainfall since June is 55% below normal at 37 millimeters. Hubei is an extremely mountainous region that borders Anhui to the east. The climate is subtropical with summer highs of 75OF (24-30oC) and rainfall averaging 800-1,600 millimeters. Temperatures this year have held steady at 100-102 OF (37-39 oC). Specialty teas include Yihong Gongfu, Dengcun green tea and Wufeng Mao Jian tea. The region also produces Keemun, a style of black tea.
In Yunnan The Department of Agriculture said the lack of rainfall has affected about 2.57 million acres (1.04 million hectares) of crops. Fire rescue teams in the province have dispatched 176 fire trucks to bring water to farmland and assist about 30,000 residents.
Xinhua Net reports “about 358,067 hectares of crops seriously damaged, and the severe drought has killed more than 40,000 acres (16,667 hectares) of crops.” Provincial meteorologists explain that the province has seen less precipitation and higher temperature since spring due to global warming and El Nino.
Luo Hongbo, publisher of the influential Pu-erh Magazine in the city of Pu’er, described the drought locally as severe and troublesome to local growers.
While many tea trees under forest cover will survive, quality will suffer.
“The tea tree is a plant that likes humidity and fears waterlogging,” he said. “Tea needs annual precipitation of more than 1,000 millimeters, and monthly precipitation during the growth period is more than 100 mm. If the precipitation for several consecutive months is less than 50 mm, the tea production can be regarded as drought,” explained Hongbo.
“When tea tree water is in unbalanced state for a long time, it will cause water deficit inside plant body, metabolic activity is affected, growth and development are inhibited. Not only tea, even tea roots will be affected,” said Hongbo.
“The lack of water directly affects the photosynthesis, respiration and other physiological activities of tea trees, and the transport, absorption and synthesis of nutrients, especially the synthesis of proteins in tea leaves. In the early stages of drought, protein synthesis is blocked, and decomposition is intensified, leading to an increase in amino acids. However, with the persistence of drought, when the physiological function of tea tree is seriously damaged, the components such as amino acid, protein, caffeine and water extract all decrease,” he said.
In August, Voice of America reporter John Russell interviewed Zi Sai, the son of Que Liu and Si En in Yunnan. He said “Drought has cut production by about half this spring.”
The dry weather has worsened over the past 20 years, with this year’s drought breaking some records. “The entire precipitation pattern has changed due to global warming,” said Xiao Chan, head of weather services at China’s National Climate Center in Beijing.
Temperatures greater than 100OF were reported last week in Jiangxi, Hunan, northeastern Guizhou, eastern Sichuan and Chongqing.