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Survey says tea future skeptical

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A survey conducted by a Netherlands-based organisation UTZ, indicates that there will be a shift in the country’s tea growing areas in the next 30 to 50 years.

Tea is the country’s second largest foreign exchange earner and contributes about seven percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The industry is also the largest private sector employer after the government.

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With support from International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), UTZ engaged Tea Association of Malawi (Taml), through the 2020 Tea Revitalisation project, on future predicaments of the crop in the country in line with the global climatic changes.

Presenting the finding in Blantyre, CIAT Researcher, Christian Bunn, said the survey is looking at long-term climate change impacts.

He said the survey notes that there are different issues emerging across the tea growing areas in Malawi.

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“Today in Nkhata Bay, there is a lot of potential in tea growing but, going forward, the high temperatures and intermediate precipitation levels are not good enough to sustain tea growing.

“While in the South, especially Mulanje, the temperatures and precipitation levels are quite high at the moment, so the area is more resilient against negative changes caused by higher temperatures,” Bunn said.

Taml Chairman, Sangwani Hara, said the survey results will play a part in making sure that Malawi tea is sustainable.

He said the information on climatic changes and focusing will help the industry in future planning.

“The results show increase in temperatures in the South and some of the present tea growing areas will become marginal where as in the North, some other parts will receive more rains and become more suitable to tea growing for the time being,” he said.

Hara said work has started to mitigate the impact of climate within the industry.

“Through the Tea Research Foundation Centre (RTFC), we are producing new crones of tea which are more tolerant to drought but at the same time maintaining quality.

“We are also reviewing our system so that, where possible, we can invest in irrigation systems so that when the rainy season is over, we can continue producing tea,” Hara said.

He further said climate change effects have been significant in the sector as witnessed by a drop in the annual production.

“The effects have been severe over the past eight years. We have seen a variation in annual tea production from 52 million kilogrammes in 2009 to 39 million kilogrammes in 2015,” he said.

UTZ Country Representative, Lisa Ryser, said her organisation had agreed with Taml to do a climate change mapping to see the impact of climate change in the next 50 years.

“Climate change maps are projecting that there will be some shifts in tea producing areas in Malawi, so we would like to work together with Taml to see what adaptation measures they can put in place to cope with the changes

“By doing the study, we are giving the Malawi tea sector the tools to be able to make informed decisions about the industry going forward,” Ryser said.

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