• Tea Biz Podcast | Episode 41

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    | Fairtrade International Predicts Climate-Related Disaster for Small Tea Farms
    | Chemical Fertilizer Supplies Disrupted
    | Holiday Helpers are in Short Supply

    Seven-minute Tea News Recap

    Tea Price Report
    Oct 23 – Sale 42

    India Tea Price Watch

    After a missed week of the auction, North India saw good demand in Kolkata, Guwahati, and Siliguri. Last week saw the highest weekly sale volume for 2021. In Kolkata, 83% of Orthodox tea on offer was sold, and the Middle East remained the top buyer. However, Darjeeling tea saw less uptake. In Guwahati, the market showed good demand for CTC and Orthodox teas, and major blenders were active. In Coonoor, buyers from North India were active, reportedly due to demand during Diwali, one of the biggest Indian festivals. Read more…

    Aravinda Anantharaman


    This week Tea Biz travels to Lincoln, England for a visit with Will Battle, author of “The World Tea Encyclopaedia” and managing director of Fine Tea Merchants, Ltd., a wholesale tea import and export venture that supplies tea merchants with mainstream offerings as well as rare teas and herbals.

    Will Battle on the unique costs of producing specialty tea.
    Will Battle details the additional costs of producing specialty tea.

    The Cost of Producing Specialty Tea

    By Dan Bolton

    Growers are taking initiatives on quality at all levels, blurring the lines between the everyday and specialty sectors, says tea wholesaler and author Will Battle. But is manufacturing specialty tea worth the effort?

    “Frequently it probably isn’t considering the amount that growers need to invest from a financial and human resources perspective to make the very best teas,” he says.

    The costs of producing the distinctive taste of the authentic, transparent, eco-friendly, clean-label formulations that are so popular with Millennial and Gen Z cohorts are significantly higher than what growers spend supplying conventional tea. A preference for chemical-free cultivation, third-party certifications, energy-efficient, carbon-neutral processing and transport, and recyclable and biodegradable packaging further erode margins along the length of the supply chain. Consumers who pay a premium at retail for specialty tea often leave growers to foot the bill. This raises a fundamental question: Is anyone making money making specialty tea? Read more…

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    Will Battle on the costs and questionable return on investment for growers making specialty tea


    A tea farm in Kerala, South India, one of several climate “hot spots”? identified by Fairtrade International

    Fairtrade International: Small Tea Growers Face Climate-Related Financial Disaster

    Limited access to capital will make it difficult for farmers to finance adaptations to changing climate that will generally lower yield, reduce tea quality, and lead to more instances of catastrophic failure in tea “hotspots” globally.

    By Dan Bolton

    According to Fairtrade International, a hotter and drier climate poses a severe financial threat to millions of farmers in major tea-growing regions.

    The third-party certification organization released a 148-page report ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland (COP26). Fairtrade CEO Nyagoy Nyong’o called the study’s results “extremely alarming and a clarion call for immediate and comprehensive climate action.”

    The study assessed climate impacts on bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, sugarcane, and tea producers. Juan Pablo Solis, Fairtrade’s senior advisor for climate and environment, said, “the way climate change affects the planet is extraordinarily complex.” He cited “mounting challenges that they [Fairtrade International certified farmers] face if the international community continues to fail them.” 

    In summarizing the impact on tea, the authors state that tea-producing locations will be subject to considerable increases in the number of days of extreme temperatures, especially under the high emissions scenario.

    Read more…

    Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) are described in two climate scenarios through 2050. RCP4.5 is the current trajectory, and RCP8.5 is the more extreme scenario. RCP4.5 assumes global mitigation will enable the atmosphere to stabilize by 2100. RCP8.5 presents a future where mitigation efforts fail and greenhouse gases remain high.
    Smallholder spreading fertilizer by hand on tea farm

    Chemical Fertilizer Supplies Disrupted

    By Dan Bolton

    Closure of fertilizer manufacturing plants in the UK and record-high prices approaching $1,000 per short ton in North America foretell cutbacks as global food prices reach a 10-year high. There are ample stocks and capacity, but timely arrival is a concern due to the shipping crisis and fertilizer prices are prohibitively high for some applications due to rising energy costs.

    China, the world’s largest agrochemical manufacturer by tonnage, cut output due to rising energy prices but has since allowed manufacturers to maintain high operating rates to meet domestic food security requirements. Fertilizer exports surged in 2021 with a total of 10.8 million metric tons during the first eight months of the year, an increase of 46% compared to the same period in 2020. In July China suspended phosphate exports and in August exports declined by 26% to 2.78 million metric tons.

    As prices spike across a broad range of plant nutrients European growers say they may be forced to idle croplands or plant less fertilizer-dependent crops than corn, for example.

    In the US the price of urea increased 26% in the past month reaching $0.80/lb.N [per pound of Nitrogen] with anhydrous at $0.57/lb.N., an average $940 per ton. Potash is up 15% compared to September.

    Biz Insight – The disruption is troubling because tea is a very demanding plant requiring 300-450 kilos of Nitrogen per hectare for high-quality shoots plus three secondary nutrients and 10 trace elements. No soil in any part of the world can continuously provide full nourishment for plants producing economically significant yields without fertilizer.

    Holiday workers are in short supply
    Holiday workers are in short supply

    Holiday Retail and Delivery Workers in Short Supply

    Workers in US retail and warehouse fulfillment are in high demand and short supply as major employers’ staff up for the holidays.

    Seasonal culinary workers, delivery drivers, and retail clerks are among the 4.3 million “missing workers” unable or unwilling to return to work, according to the Wall Street Journal. Money Magazine notes that 10% of seasonal job postings on Indeed.com include the description “urgent.”

    Amazon expects to hire 150,000 seasonal workers (up 50% from 2020) and is paying an average of $18 per hour. Supervisors can qualify for $3,000 signing bonuses in key slots. UPS is advertising warehouse and package-handler jobs at $22 per hour. Walmart, Target, and FedEx round out the top five seasonal employers with a combined 600,000 slots to fill.

    In response, smaller retailers and cafés are offering additional hours and more stable work hours to existing employees, investing in staff training, and promising to transition the most promising new hires to full-time work in 2022. New hires are requesting more flexibility and benefits. The shortage means seasonal and full-time job seekers have greater leverage this year to negotiate bonuses and benefits and wages greater than $15 per hour.

    Biz Insight – There are 10 million US job openings as workers quit at the highest rates on record. Nearly 50% of US adults in a recent LinkedIn survey said the pandemic has changed how they feel about their careers. Of those who view their careers differently, 73% said they felt less fulfilled in their current jobs. The greatest decline in the eligible worker participation rate is among women, workers without a college degree, and those in low-paying service industries such as hotels, restaurants, and childcare, according to the Wall Street Journal. Pandemic accelerated early retirements among those 55 and older is a trend that economists say is unlikely to reverse.

    — Dan Bolton

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  • Adapting to Climate Change

    New study recommends motivational campaigns, demonstrations, training, and extension work to encourage growers large and small to adapt to climate change.

    Rosekandy Tea Estate
    Reservoirs conserve rainwater harvested at Rosekandy Tea Estate. Photo courtesy Rosekandy TE.

    Tea Garden Managers in Assam Confront Climate Change

    The threat of climate change looms large in tea. “There is increasing evidence that climate change will strongly affect tea cultivation,” concludes a study of growers in Assam, the world’s top tea producing region.

    Garden managers in Assam are responding to the threat with adaptive measures that growers will find useful in many tea lands. These include rainwater harvesting to enable irrigation during dry spells, reforestation, conservation of biodiversity, soil mulching, and the creation of wind barriers that combine to mitigate the threat.

    To better understand the seriousness of the situation and to discover local adaptations, two scientists at the Tocklai TRA (Tea Research Association) in Jorhat sent questionnaires to growers in four regions of Assam – Upper Assam, South Bank [of the Brahmaputra River], North Bank and Cachar. Combined, these regions produce about 12% the world’s tea, supporting the livelihood of 1.2 million workers.

    The study Perception of Climate Change and Adaptation Strategies in Tea Plantations of Assam India analyzed tea growers’ awareness of climate change, its impact on tea, adaptive approaches undertaken and future strategies. The study was recently published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, a peer reviewed, scientific journal published by Springer. The work was authored by Dr. Pradip Baruah and Dr. Gautam Handique at Tocklai.

    The scientists note that climate change is a global concern with impacts that vary at the farm level. The majority of respondents were aware of changing climate conditions and the effect on tea production. How farmers respond to climate change needs to be precisely understood if the government, policymakers and researchers are to effectively support adaptive and mitigative approaches for the tea crop. Data was received from 83 tea estates.

    The impact of higher temperatures, erratic and often torrential rains are evident, according to Dr. Baruah, monitors weather and growing conditions and regularly shares his findings and advice online like in this March 15 tweet: “Rainfall has been quite scanty so far this year in Assam tea areas. Irrigation is still on in a Golaghat area tea estate today, which is mid of March.”

    Rainfall has been quite scanty so far this year in Assam tea areas. Irrigation is still on at a Golaghat area tea estate today, which is the mid of March. – Dr. Pradip Baruah

    The study revealed that most respondents (85.5%) were ‘deeply concerned’ about climate change, 9.6% were ‘somewhat concerned’ and only 4.8% were ‘unconcerned’ regarding climate change.

    Three quarters of respondents (78.3%) reported a decline in productivity while 12% were uncertain. Only 9.6% of the respondents suggested that tea production was not vulnerable to climate change. Respondents from gardens along the South Bank of the Brahmaputra River report the greatest impact, followed by North Bank growers and those in the Cachar region. A majority in every region confirmed that climate change, visible as spikes in temperature, drought, and variations in rainfall, was significantly affecting their crop production.

    Tea depends greatly on rainfall for optimal growth. Leaf productivity and the bushes are harmed by either an excess or shortage of water. Respondents said adverse conditions such as prolonged drought during winter and/or periodic heavy rainfall in recent years pose a threat to the sustainability of the crop. 

    The study pointed out that rains have become unpredictable with some regions suffering from prolonged dry spells, while other experience incessant rain particularly during the monsoon months. Respondents said climate change has also led to an increase in insect and disease infestation.

    In July 2020 the Brahmaputra River inundated around 26 districts, driving 2.8 million from their homes and killing 123. 

    Assam recorded 1,164mm of rainfall compared to a normal monthly average of 894mm during July 2020, an excess of nearly 30% (see map). The catchment areas of nearby states, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim also received excess rainfall 16% and 45%. – NASA Earth Observatory

    “As future management strategies, tea growers have opted to gradually replace synthetic fertilizers with organic manures and pesticides, construct anti-erosion measures along river sides and embankments, and generate awareness programs” according to to the study.

    Adaptive Measures

    The Rosekandy Tea Estate in Cachar in South Assam anticipated the local impacts of a changing climate as early as 1982.

    Ishwarbhai Ubhadia, general manager at Rosekandy TE, told Tea Biz, “We have created rainwater harvesting ponds all over the estate. We now have a 100 hectare area under water,” he said. “Wind belts have been created and we have maintained 500 hectares of reserve forest to maintain micro-climate and ecological balance,” he said. Installation of 70- kilowatt powered solar plant is underway. The generator will be commissioned by April, he said, adding that hunting of birds and animals on the land is now prohibited. 

    Garden managers expressed optimism in applying strategies to mitigate climate change. Rainwater harvesting and irrigation are now common in Upper Assam and along the South Bank, North Bank and Cachar. Adaptive measures like reforestation programs and the creation of wind barriers were mostly implemented in Cachar as compared with Upper Assam. Cachar and South Bank gardens are more likely to practice of soil mulching compared with the North Bank.

    In-situ water conservation largely consists of constructing artificial ponds and lakes and developing existing natural water bodies such as streams, rivulets, swamps, and low-lying areas. “Rainwater harvesting increases the amount of water per unit in cropping areas, reduces drought impact and enables the use of run-of beneficially,” according to the study.

    Rooftop harvesting at Heeleakah Tea Estate is low cost and effective. Water is stored and used for consumption, tea tasting, dehumidification, etc. In the garden, rainwater ponds and reforestation programs establish a microclimate ideally suited to growing tea. Photo by Dr. Pradip Baruah.

    Photo by Dr. Pradip Baruah.

    Mulching conserves soil moisture, reduces surface runoff and soil erosion and lower soil temperature. To minimize the impact of wind speed, respondents are constructing wind barriers to deflect high velocity of winds that increase evapotranspiration and desiccation, lodging in young tea plants, uprooting of shade trees, etc.

    Dr. Baruah says the impact of climate change is readily evident. “The first and second flush tea is getting affected. More needs to be done with regard to ecological micro-management by planting various types of trees,” he said.

    “Climate change is dynamic, impacting all but it needs a total approach at global and local level,” writes Dr. Baruah. “The good thing is that the tea estates have the capability of doing it to a great extent in different topographical and agro-climate conditions. Results are absolutely visible in Cachar area tea estates and in other areas of the state,” he says. “It is never too late but trying to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change is the only way ahead,” he said.

    The study says coal and natural gas are extensively used in tea production and can be gradually replaced with new, cleaner technologies. “However, the cost economics, availability and energy efficiency standards of such ‘green energy’ will have to be properly worked out before essentially implementing in tea plantations. Similarly, the gradual replacement of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides with organic ones will be a welcoming step, but at the same time, one has to look at the practical feasibility and cost economics of such implementation” the scientists involved in the study say. 

    Plan of Action
    The proportion of tea plantations proposing future strategies like planting of tolerant/resistant tea cultivars and awareness and training programs among workers and associated people is higher for South Bank and North Bank as compared with that of Upper Assam. The  proportion of tea plantations proposing future strategy of awareness and training programs among workers and associated people were in favor of South Bank and North Bank, respectively.

    Scientists say the present study will be helpful to make more informed future strategies regarding best practices for tea cultivation under a changing climate for tea-growing regions all over the world.

    The Way Forward
    During a virtual International Tea Day panel discussion last year, FAO Director-General, Qu Dongyu, cited the importance of achieving greater sustainability in the tea sector. Panelists agreed on the need to develop strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation, promote market transparency and sustainability of the tea value chain and develop policies for sustainable tea production benefiting, first and foremost, smallholder farmers. FAO has since launched projects to develop carbon-neutral tea cultivation (see below).

    FAO’s Intergovernmental Group on Tea when it last met formally in 2018, warned that tea cultivation and production globally is facing climate-related challenges which need to be addressed. Delegates concluded that “Climate variability, incidents of frost and prevalence of pests, also have an influence on tea production, and are beginning to affect productivity.”

    The Assam study calls for motivational campaigns, demonstrations, training and extension work to encourage adoption of climate change. “The implementation of long-term policies for climate change by the government needs to be strengthened so that the benefits reach every tea plantation and if necessary, subsidiary schemes can be developed by the government to encourage more adoption of such techniques” the study says.

    Rainwater harvesting
    Developing rainwater catchments creates a micro-climate ideal for growing tea. Photo by Dr. Pradip Baruah.

    FAO Launches Carbon-Neutral Tea Project in Kenya

    The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is working with tea growers in Kenya to pioneer carbon-neutral tea.

    The program attempts to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at each stage in the tea value chain.

    The project will use carbon-neutral tea production methodologies developed in China by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) as well as new technologies to tackle climate change through energy efficiency, tried and tested in the Kenyan tea sector by the German Development Agency (GIZ).

    Scientists will prioritise energy and resource efficiency in tea factories through technology transfers, implementation of effective monitoring management, green procurement guidelines and factory automation.

    The project will also address the first stages of the tea value chain and the cultivation of tea bushes using low carbon practices including the reduction of fertilizers and pesticides, the support of carbon sequestration and soil conservation.

    Energy Live News

    Resource Links

    International Trade Center
    Mitigating Climate Change in Tea Sector (2014)
    Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences
    Carbon-Neutral Tea Production in China (2019)
    FAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea (23rd Session)
    Fostering Sustainability in Tea Production (2018)

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