The Effect of Global Warming in the Green Tea Industry, Part I

 

The ancient tradition of tea faces a challenge that threatens to shake its very foundation: global warming.

 

Overwhelming evidence by Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC) strongly suggest that the ability of the countries growing tea to hedge against large-scale effects of global warming will seriously be affected. 


Temperature-sensitive agricultural products like tea are susceptible to the atmospheric changes caused by global warming.

 

Future projections foresee a spike in worldwide atmospheric temperatures that will drastically affect farming practices by tea farms all over the world.

 

Tea farming is a long term investment that bets on the improved quality of the produced tea through prudent cultivation. The tea bushes that supply the world’s thirst for tea has been around for 60-80 years, a time the phenomenon of global warming was yet to be fully understood. These decades-old bushes are more responsive to climate rather than the weather. And that’s why it’s the tea industry is at the mercy of global warming. 


Farmers have abided by the calendar along with cues from nature to time the farming cycle, but when established seasons for cultivation and harvesting bleed into each other, farmers have to quickly adapt to the change while still delivering quality produce.

 

In Uji, Japan, a region known as the benchmark for highest quality matcha in Japan, tea farmers have been doing so for years. A survey conducted among tea farmers on the effect of climatic changes on their farming practices. 


The observed changes in Uji were the following:


  • Sudden drop in temperature during spring season (March to May) but higher temperature during fall season (September to November). 

These months are the months when fertilizer is applied therefore is crucial in the tea cultivation process, but the serious drop in temperature poses a serious problem: because tea is only active in temperatures above 10ºC, any frost events will permanently damage the leaf buds effectively reducing harvest yield. 


  • Changes in quantity and period of rainy season.

Uji experienced excessive rainfall after the harvest period that washed into the tea farms located on the river plains and  lowlands. This strips the soil of nutrients, and if not quickly drained the water will damage the tea bush.


  • Longer period of drought

 

In Uji, the summer season (June to September) the prolonged drought has drought directly affected the plant growth and reduce the quality and quantity of next season harvest, as tea plant will not be in a healthy condition. While it isn’t a practice in the region to water the tea plantation, the risk of ruining the harvest’s quality is high so they’re forced to watering the plantation. 

 

These events on the field cause waves of socio-economic changes from the farmer to the consumer, and the industry of tea as a whole. How exactly do drastic changes in temperature and extended days of drought unsettle the deeply rooted, centuries-long culture of drinking tea? Find out in the next part.