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Climate threat brewing for British cuppa – new report

Source(s):  Christian Aid (CA)

  • PG Tips, Tetley and Twinings speak out about the impact of climate change on tea growers
  • Kenya alone produces half the tea drunk in UK and is world’s biggest exporter
  • Climate change is forecast to slash Kenya’s optimal tea growing regions by 26% by 2050
  • Kenya’s medium level tea growing regions to decrease by 39%
  • Climate change is affecting the world’s four largest tea producing countries: Kenya, China, India and Sri Lanka
  • Report launched to mark Christian Aid Week highlighting the impact of climate change in Kenya

Nowhere drinks more tea per capita than the UK and Ireland. Brits alone drink more than 100 million cups a day, that’s enough to fill more than 11 Olympic sized swimming pools

However this national favourite is under threat due to climate change.  A new report from the charity Christian Aid shows that Kenya, where half of UK tea imports come from, is facing a host of climate related impacts such as rising temperatures, erratic rainfall, droughts and new insect infestations.

These are forecast to destroy 26.2% of the country’s optimal tea growing areas by 2050.  Areas with medium quality growing conditions are to be cut by 39% in the next thirty years due to climate change.

As the world’s largest exporter of black tea, the fate of the Kenyan tea sector has a major effect on tea drinkers around the globe.  In 2017 the UK imported 125,810 tons of tea. 62,222 tons came from Kenya, which is more than the rest of the top ten biggest importing countries combined.

The publication of the report (on Monday 10 May) marks the start of Christian Aid Week which is raising awareness of the impact that climate change is having in Kenya.

The dire situation facing Kenyan tea farmers has not gone unnoticed by some of Britain’s biggest tea brands.  PG Tips, Tetley Tea and Twinings, as well as the Fairtrade Foundation all shared their concern about the impact climate change is having on their growers (full quotes below).

A spokesperson from Twinings, said: “We are aware that climate change is accelerating fast and poses a risk to smallholder tea farmers. As extreme weather and natural disasters continue to affect the sowing and growing of healthy crops, the people who supply the ingredients for our products will become ever more vulnerable.”

This year the UK will have an opportunity to change this. Dr Kat Kramer, Christian Aid’s climate policy lead, said: “This year the UK Government has a key role in overseeing the global response to the climate emergency. As host of both the G7 in June and the COP26 climate summit in November, the UK can ensure that countries on the front line of this crisis can adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change. With countries starting to announce improved climate plans, there is a unique opportunity to accelerate cuts in emissions and boost the finance needed to help countries adapt to the changing climate.”

Fiachra Moloney, of PG Tips maker Unilever said it was vital that COP26 was a success: “The climate crisis affects people all over the world. In East Africa, where so much of our tea comes from, climate change is putting the livelihoods of the people who grow tea for us at risk.

“As Unilever, we call on governments to bring forward ambitious climate targets, policies and plans ahead of COP26 that will help us all work together to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”

These sentiments were echoed by Richard Koskei, 72, a tea farmer from Kericho in Kenya’s western highlands. He said: “For generations we have carefully cultivated our tea farms and we are proud that the tea that we grow here is the best in the world. But climate change poses a real threat to us. We cannot predict seasons anymore, temperatures are rising, rainfall is more erratic, more often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts which was not the case in the past.”

“People in my community will consider running way from tea farming, with jobs lost and consumers of tea might see the price rise. The low earnings have made the younger generations opt for other means of earning income.”

“Tea is an example of how we are all connected.  We grow it here in Kenya and it’s enjoyed by people around the world. But if we are to carry on growing it we need those other, richer countries, to cut their emissions and to think about how we are affected as tea farmers.”

Karimi Kinoti, Head of Christian Aid’s Africa Division, said:

“Africans make up 17% of the world’s population but we generate just 4% of the greenhouse gas emissions that have caused the climate crisis.  And yet it is we who are suffering the brunt of the impacts of climate change.

“Our tea industry is vital to our economy and employs more than three million people. And now it is under threat from climate change.  Kenya faces a host of climate impacts, especially rising temperatures and droughts which compound other difficulties such as poverty and Covid-19.

“We’d love to see UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson using his influence this year as host of the G7 and COP26. In particular we’d like to see the G7 cancel the debts of the world’s poorest countries and also mobilise the vital climate finance we need to adapt to the effects climate change is having on our country.”

Chair of the Board of Fairtrade Africa, Mary Kinyua, who is Fairtrade’s representative on the COP26 Civil Society and Youth Council, said:

“This welcome report from Christian Aid shines a light on the breadth of the problems that climate change poses for tea producers in countries like my own. Here in Kenya, I have seen just how tough life has become for tea producers, who are among the rural communities bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. At Fairtrade, farmers have told us it is the single biggest challenge they face today: they simply must get the support they need.

“As Christian Aid’s report rightly says, the UK must plays its part in enabling farmers to adapt to the changing climate, build their resilience in the face of floods, droughts and other extreme weather, and become part of the solution by shifting to more sustainable production methods.

“With COP26 approaching, Fairtrade is urging the UK government and businesses to take action by providing support for tea producers and other farmers in low-income countries who grow food for people in the UK. Business simply must commit to paying higher prices to farmers, and the government must keep its commitment to provide climate finance. It’s also vital that they fund targeted programmes, so that farmers have the resources essential for surviving the new climate reality in the decades ahead.”

Fiachra Moloney, General Manager Tea Division, Unilever, maker of PG Tips, said:

“As the maker of PG tips, one of the largest tea brands in the UK and Ireland, Unilever has a responsibility to help create a world where everyone can live well within the natural limits of the planet.  The climate crisis affects people all over the world. In East Africa, where so much of our tea comes from, climate change is putting the livelihoods of the people who grow tea for us at risk.   We’ve been taking action across our tea estates over many years with wide-reaching programmes to boost yields in a water-efficient way to help us adapt to climate change - but we know this can only go so far.

“As Unilever, we call on governments to bring forward ambitious climate targets, policies and plans ahead of COP26 that will help us all work together to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.”

A Twinings spokesperson said:

“We are aware that climate change is accelerating fast and poses a risk to smallholder tea farmers. As extreme weather and natural disasters continue to affect the sowing and growing of healthy crops, the people who supply the ingredients for our products will become ever more vulnerable. We’re committed to helping to preserve their quality of life and ensure they can rely on agriculture to support their families, through our Sourced with Care programme.

“We have made our UK operations carbon neutral - including at our head office and UK factory. In Kenya, we are supporting the provision of clean cookstoves in tea communities, which traditionally use smoky, open fires and inefficient cookstoves, contributing to global warming and leading to indoor air pollution and respiratory disease, particularly among women and children. ​ We’re also supporting a water filtration programme to provide safe drinking water for our tea communities in Kenya, helping to reduce the incidence of waterborne disease. These water filters also eliminate the need to burn wood or charcoal to boil water for purification, helping to improve the health of people in our sourcing communities, while also cutting carbon emissions and protecting local forests.”

Sebastian Michaelis, Head of Tea International Tea Buying & Blending at Tata, makers of Tetley Tea, said:

“Water is vital to sustain the future of the tea industry. Tea growing regions rely on the rainy seasons to keep their tea bushes healthy and productive, but it’s evident that seasonal rains are becoming more unpredictable and the impact this has on crop growth is far reaching; not least in loss of income of those employed at a local level on the farms.

“Water management is a core pillar of Tata Consumer Products sustainability strategy and we have a number of initiatives to deliver on this, at an operational level, throughout our supply chain and within tea communities.

“Working in collaboration with Tata Trusts and The Ethical Tea Partnership we have embarked on a study of the impact of climate change in Assam. However we strongly believe that tea communities need much more from the industry than just research, so in tandem, we are involved in a programme to help tea farmers mitigate the impacts of climate change, training them in sustainable practices like soil management, rainwater harvesting and drip irrigation.

“We applaud all those that are working to investigate the impacts of climate change and welcome the application of science like the CP4-Africa climate modelling tools which can more accurately predict changing rain patterns for specific growing areas. The process of sharing this knowledge and helping farmers and producers to plan ahead and execute contingency plans to accommodate the shortfall in production during dry periods and boost of productivity and over supply once the rains arrive will be critical to protecting the future of the tea industry.”

African climate change expert Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank, said:

“The British Isles is the world’s biggest tea drinker and Kenya is the world’s biggest tea exporter, so we have a special connection.   We are also connected through climate change. As a major historical polluter and the creator of the industrial revolution the UK has played a big part in the climate emergency which we Kenyans are suffering from. This year, as hosts of the G7 and COP26, the UK has a big role to play in tackling it.  Boris Johnson talks a lot about ‘Global Britain’ and this is his chance to actually back it up with action. The whole world will be watching, especially Kenyan tea farmers and other people on the front lines of the climate crisis.”

Richard Koskei, 72, a tea farmer from Kericho in Kenya’s western highlands, said:

“Tea is our livelihood. Tea has been of assistance to us and has enabled me to support my family for decades. It’s a vital part of life and without it whole communities here would struggle.  For generations we have carefully cultivated our tea farms to make them the best they can be.  We are proud that the tea that we grow here is the best in the world but climate change poses a real threat to us. We cannot predict seasons anymore, temperatures are rising, rainfall is more erratic, more often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts which was not the case in the past. If this continues then it will make growing tea much harder and life for us extremely difficult.  The conditions here used to be good and we had a great tea harvest. When the climate changed the production of tea in my farm dropped.

“We have nothing else to rely on here. People in my community will consider running way from tea farming, with jobs lost and consumers of tea might see the price rise. The low earnings have made the younger generations opt for other means of earning income. When you add Covid-19 then the situation becomes worse. It has resulted in even lower earnings from our tea because we had to scale down as we tried to take measures to prevent the further spread of the disease.

“We see the impact of climate change and we also know how it’s caused.  Carbon emissions need to be reduced urgently.  Farmers like us are bearing the brunt of this crisis but we aren’t the ones that have caused it.  We small scale farmers cannot fix this problem ourselves. This needs a joint effort from developed countries who enjoy our tea abroad.  Tea is an example of how we are all connected.  We grow it here in Kenya and it’s enjoyed by people around the world. But if we are to carry on growing it we need those other, richer countries, to cut their emissions, to think about how we are affected as tea farmers.” 



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  • Publication date 10 May 2021

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