Currently there is limited information on the effect of climate change on tea growing regions worldwide. UTZ partnered with Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to map the expected effects of climate change on tea production in Malawi, providing critical information on how to work towards long-term sustainability in the sector.
Malawi is Africa’s second largest tea producer, and one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. The tea industry is the largest formal sector employer, employing 50,000 workers and providing livelihoods for more than 14,000 smallholders. The country has three main tea-growing areas: Nkhata Bay, Mulanje and Thyolo.
The November 2017 research used a variety of mapping methods to ascertain that these regions will be affected by climate change to different degrees, but in general it will become harder to grow tea everywhere in Malawi.
Decreased rainfall, higher temperatures
Nkhata Bay in the north faces the highest climate risk because of predicted decreased rainfall and higher temperatures, making it most likely unviable for tea production towards the middle of the century.
In Thyolo it is predicted that tea growing will become more difficult in the lowlands due to increased temperatures. Mulanje is more humid than Thyolo and therefore less seriously affected.
These changes are already being felt on the ground. Princewell Arnold Pendame has been farming tea in Malawi for over 20 years. He says: “You know the climate has sort of changed. Because I know the climate is not the same, I had to introduce my irrigation system. But it’s costly and that is also a challenge. Because if you don’t have money in your pocket you can’t grow tea because it’s too dry. “
How UTZ will use the research
The research was organized and funded by the UTZ Sector Partnership program and conducted in close collaboration with the sector initiative Malawi Tea 2020. At UTZ we believe that knowing the impacts of climate change is the first step to preparing for change. Climate impact maps are particularly valuable in bringing different stakeholders together around the topic of climate change, and raising awareness about the need for measures to protect the sector.
UTZ is engaging in three different follow-up projects. One of them is the development of a sector-wide Environmental Sustainability Management Plan for tea production in Malawi which will enable estates and smallholders to develop their own adaptation strategies based on their unique situations.
Furthermore, UTZ works on the landscape-based adaptation planning project with Malawian tea smallholder farmers which will not only address the effects of climate change on tea, but also tackle such environmental impacts as land degradation, deforestation and availability of clean water.
Finally, UTZ develops climate change adaptation material for tea smallholders to raise awareness about the issue and assist them to apply practices which will make them more resilient.
Improving the certification program
UTZ will also use the findings for continuous improvement of its certification program. Many practices promoted by the UTZ Code of Conduct aim to make producers more resilient against climate change. One example of an adaptation strategy is the planting of trees around producers’ fields. This can lead to lower temperatures around tea bushes, and increase the capacity of the soil to retain water.
UTZ will increase its support for producers on planting shade trees through more specific guidance on the topic, as well as through facilitating knowledge exchange between different countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Read more on UTZ’s actions to tackle climate change.
Making producers climate-smart
Creating sustainable tea production is key for both business and consumers. Given the long economic lifespan of tea bushes (up to 50 years), changes in suitability for growing tea in 10-20 years will affect plants that are planted and grown today. UTZ will therefore continue to work innovatively to help make the tea sector in Malawi and beyond climate-smart in the long term, so we can all keep sourcing and enjoying quality tea.