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Climate change is bad news for tea drinkers

18 May 2021


Richard Koskei, a tea farmer from Kericho, Kenya

Richard Koskei, a tea farmer from Kericho, Kenya

BRITAIN’s beloved daily cup of tea is under threat as climate change intensifies, affecting the world’s prime tea-growing regions, including Kenya and India, a new report from Christian Aid suggests.

Not only will supplies of tea be reduced as a result of poor crop yields, says the report, Reading the Tea Leaves: Climate change and the British cuppa, but the flavour and health benefits of tea will reduce, too. Increased rainfall overwhelms plantations and produces poor-quality leaves. The result is tasteless tea, which is also lower in the anti-inflammatory compounds that provide health benefits to drinkers.

Half of the tea drunk by people in Britain is imported from Kenya, where tea plantations are already under threat from erratic rainfall, rising temperatures, droughts, and plagues of insects.

Britain and Ireland are among the biggest tea drinkers in the world. In Britain, 100 million cups are drunk a day — enough to fill more than 11 Olympic swimming pools. The UK imports 125,810 tons of black tea a year, half of which — 62,222 tons — comes from Kenya, which is the biggest exporter of black tea in the world. Other tea-exporting countries, such as India, China, and Sri Lanka, are also experiencing poor yields owing to the changing climate.

The report was published on Monday of last week, coinciding with this year’s Christian Aid Week, which seeks to raise awareness of the impact that climate change is having . Forecasts predict that 26 per cent of Kenya’s tea-growing areas could be destroyed by 2050.

Some of the biggest tea brands in the UK have warned of the impact on tea production, and on the livelihoods of tea producers themselves.

A spokesperson for 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.”

Togther with Unilever, which makes PG Tips; Tata, which makes Tetley Tea; and the Fairtrade Foundation, Twinnings has called on the Government to use the COP26 summit in November to accelerate policies to combat climate change.

Richard Koskei, a tea farmer from Kericho, in the western highlands of Kenya, told researchers: “For generations we have carefully cultivated our tea farms, and we are proud that the tea we grow here is the best in the world.

“But climate change poses a real threat to us. We cannot predict seasons any more; temperatures are rising, rainfall is more erratic, more often accompanied by unusual hailstones and longer droughts, which was not the case in the past.”

He said that younger generations in Kenya were choosing not to go into tea farming as a result.

Karimi Kinoti, from Christian Aid’s Africa division, said that the tea industry was vital to the economy of countries such as Kenya, where it employs more than three million people. “Africans make up 17 per cent of the world’s population, yet generate just four per cent 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.

“We’d love to see 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.”

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