Falling UK sales are not the only problem keeping tea producers awake at night these days. The impact of climate change and soaring populations in tea producing countries is also exercising the minds of many in the industry.
With good reason. “From India to Kenya the tea sector could face a dramatic reduction in production due to changes in rainfall and temperature,” says Ann-Marie Brouder, principal sustainability advisor at Forum for the Future, the non-profit organisation behind the Tea 2030 project, a think tank set up to identify the key challenges the industry will face over the next two decades.
And the impact of climate change on tea production ranks high among them, says Brouder: “Research shows there could be a drop in production of Darjeeling of 50% to 80% by 2050, whilst Uganda may not have a tea sector at all.”
That’s not all. Growing water, labour and land scarcity have also been identified as challenges in a series of workshops attended by leading industry players including Twinings, TATA Global Beverages and Unilever in the past year.
“Tea will be competing not only with other food crops but with urbanisation and the growing bio-economy,” says Brouder of the impact rising populations will have on tea producing regions. “Tea is traditionally a rain-fed crop, but now estates are turning to irrigation, increasing their demand for a resource decreasing in availability. There could be a scenario where we can no longer purchase tea at a low price so it becomes a product we enjoy as an indulgence, given higher prices and less availability.”
The think tank is now setting up ‘collaboration platforms’ to address key challenges. “We’re in the process of deciding what exactly they will be,” says Brouder. “What is clear is that the problems are too great for one tea company or estate to tackle alone.”
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