Tea farmer
(Photo credit: musicfiend / Flickr)

Tea is the second-most consumed drink on Earth, after water. But in many places like Kenya and Malawi, Africa’s top tea-producing countries, climate change threatens tea production.

“They are experiencing warmer temperatures than average and higher frequency of hot weather events,” says Neha Mittal, a research fellow at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.

She says during a heat wave, the leaves on tea bushes can scorch and turn brown. Drought can make the problem even worse.

Mittal is part of a project that generates site-specific predictions of future tea growing conditions in Kenya and Malawi. Growers can use the information to adapt, for example by planting shade trees near crops or starting to grow more heat-tolerant varieties of tea.

“It takes eight to nine years for a newly planted tea bush to become productive,” she says, “and an average economic life cycle of a tea bush is around 60 to 80 years.”

So Mittal says the choices growers make now will affect their livelihoods for decades to come.

“This highlights how crucial informed long-term decision-making is for the tea sector,” she says. “I think to know what the future holds is really important for the industry.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.