I could have gone with The Times They Are a-Changin’ from Bob Dylan but quoting a Nobel Prize is a bit too much out of my league, so I had to get back to a good old classic, Good Morning Vietnam.
I read just a few days ago in The Washington Post (no I don’t read this journal, I just happened to find out about it thanks to the powerful tool that is a collection of blogs on various topics) that scientists were working to adapt coffee plants for climate changes and other woes. Their efforts go mainly towards the creation of new “species” (something that has been done for centuries) to make up for the limited gene pool as only two species of coffee have been used for human consumption. However, some people say that it might be too late for all the places where coffee is being produced.
This article made me think a little about our (I guess so if you are reading my blog or at least my) favourite drink and what might happen with it. I remembered having found some research reports on some really specific or country related problems, like the future for the Kenyan tea industry.
The most obvious effects of climate change are changes in temperatures, changes in rainfall and a certain unpredictability of the weather (with the famous “there are no seasons anymore”).
For now, perhaps because of the high differences between the different producing countries, I couldn’t find any consensus on the main consequences with things ranging from “we will manage to get through it without any problems” (which seems a bit unbelievable) to “it could be a complete disaster and force us to stop or to reallocate the production of tea in other areas or in other countries.”
The main reason behind these differences is that the producing countries are located in a rather wide set of conditions and on different continents, with each one facing different potential weather problems. Just to illustrate, let me remind you that tea grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates but some varieties tolerate marine climates. The tea plants require at least 127 cm of rainfall a year and prefer acidic soils but this is not absolutely vital. You can find them in elevations up to 1.500 meters above sea level but also on much lower grounds.
There are however some things that are agreed by most.
First, the climate change is likely to be changing the taste of tea because warmer seasons and less water are interacting with the chemical components of the tea leaves, making them react in other ways as they would “normally” do. This has already been documented in China (in the province of Yunnan) and in Japan.
A second impact that makes consensus is that changing weather hurts the production but in the future who knows what might come up and who knows how fast the changes will go on.
On a positive sidenote, tea bushes requires less water than coffee plants (I read from 1 to 10), which might be of some help.
There are other indications that perhaps the geographical locations of some tea gardens are isolating them creating a micro-climate that could mitigate the effects of the climate change, because of the mountain slopes, the winds and the mist are giving on a daily basis water to the bushes and could make it up for the less frequent and abundant rain.
Mist at a tea garden at Darjeeling by Joydeep
Other solutions advocated are to go for organic approaches with natural techniques to mitigate the impacts, things like having the ground covered by natural nutriments…
For me, at this moment in time and with no certitude regarding any potential long impact, there are three ways :
– trying to improve the plants through research,
– trying to mitigate the effects either through specific methods (better irrigation systems when possible) or through more general ones (like covering the ground),
– migrating the production.
The most likely road is a mix of the three depending on the interest of all the people involved in the tea industry, of the readiness of the consumer to pay more and on the progress of these climate changes.
This means that we (tea drinkers) like a lot of people are likely to see a radical change in the way we have to deal with our favourite drink.
We need to know that and be ready to face changes in the tea industry and support them or try to find better ways for The Times They Are a-Changin’.