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Climate change brews multi-challenges for tea

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Guwahati: In the backdrop of the just-concluded COP21 talks in Paris, as nations across the world discussed ways to tackle the monster called climate change, back home, India’s favourite beverage, tea, is facing some major challenges as a result of it – from low yield to new pests.

Scientists at Assam’s Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TRI) say that erratic rainfall over the years is a major concern for the tea industry. The first flush – the early leaves which are delicate and have a gentle aroma – which is harvested mid-March, has been affected by the changing rain patterns.

R N Bhagat, one of the scientists at Tocklai, said: “In the last 100 years in Assam, we have lost around 22.1 cm of rainfall. With this decrease and a shift in rainfall distribution, the tea industry is losing the first flush that comes in March-April. Spraying of fertilizers is timed with the rainfall pattern, but with no rain, the fertilizers have no impact.”

Then again, with no rain, the relative humidity in March-April is also lowering, further affecting the first flush. “It used to be 80 percent, but in 2015 it was recorded around 52-54 percent,” Bhagat told IANS.

In a discussion organised by the Centre for Environment Education and The Third Pole under the Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP), Bhagat said that tea is a self-adapting plant and has been sustaining rising temperatures – the summer saw more than 35 degrees Celsius while tea grows ideally between 13-30 degrees C.

Even then, it cannot tackle all changes – like a spurt in new pests as a result of changing weather patterns.

N. Muraleedharan, director of Tocklai, said: “White flies is a new species of pest which has been reported mostly from the Assam belt. It is minute and travels in hoards. There has also been an increase in pests like thrips, tea mosquitoes, scale insects and green hoppers, as a result of which the intensity of damage on tea is more.”

“As a result of the change in weather patterns, there is a decrease in leaf quality too,” he went on to say.

What all of this translates into is production being affected. And to increase production, the tea managements generally use more chemicals, leading to more biotic stress on the plant. According to the scientists, there are two kinds of stress – abiotic (drought, flood) and biotic (pests and the like caused by flood and drought).

“This also means that the total production cost of the tea estates is increasing. Earlier Rs.4,000-5,000 was used for pesticides, per hectare. Now it has gone up to Rs.20,000-25,000. Irrigation costs have also increased,” Bhagat said.

With such multi-pronged challenges being thrown at tea by changing environmental conditions, scientists are now working on developing clones that would have the best chances of survival in the future.

“We have simulated future scenarios of climatic conditions, like higher carbon dioxide, and are looking at how tea plants behave. In one or one and a half years’ time, we should be able to announce future clones to the industry,” Bhagat said.

Scientists also developed a seed-stock that is drought resistant and released it in September on an experimental basis, which got good results.

The changing climatic conditions and more pests have also steered many gardens into adopting indigenous plants that naturally repel tea-harming insects. “In this matter, organic tea is much more climate resilient than the chemical version. And its demand is high too. But it is more expensive,” Muraleedharan said.

So, it is an uncertain future for the steaming cup of ‘chai’ in your hands. But, as experts keep brainstorming to keep the deluge of problems from the tea plants, the good news is that all hope is not lost. Not yet. (Azera Rahman, IANS)

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Governments Have Failed to Respond Adequately to Climate Change at The U.N. Conference: Activists

While there are parts of the package that could and should have been stronger, the implementation guidelines adopted today provide a strong basis to start

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In this Dec. 11, 2018 photo a participant in U.N. climate conference walks by a photo of a satellite in Katowice, Poland. VOA

At the UN Climate Change Conference, which concluded in the presence of delegates from nearly 200 countries, green activists on Sunday said governments have failed to adequately respond to the catastrophic impact of climate change that was highlighted in a recent IPCC report.

Late Saturday night, the UN climate negotiations, known as COP24, drew to a close, with parties adopting a set of guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

The climate change conference has failed to deliver a clear commitment to strengthen all countries’ climate pledges by 2020.

At the same time, a relatively effective though incomplete rule book for how to implement the Paris Agreement was finalised.

“It is a weak rule book that we have for implementation of the Paris Agreement. This rule book is completely insufficient to drive ambitious climate action,” New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) said.

United Nations, Global warming, climate change
Participants take part in plenary session during COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. VOA

CSE has been tracking the negotiations at the 24th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) here.

The COP24 conference also failed to increase the ambition of countries to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases as per the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5 degrees Celsius, CSE’s Deputy Director General Chandra Bhushan told IANS.

Limited progress was also made with regard to how financial support for poorer countries coping with devastating climate change impact will be provided and accounted for, says another climate negotiator.

The EU has made welcome efforts by building alliances with other countries and finding common ground on sticking points.

With several other members of the High Ambition Coalition, the EU has set a good example by committing to increase its 2030 climate target by 2020, in light of the warnings of the IPCC calling for “rapid and far-reaching” action to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

United Nations, Global warming, climate change
COP24 President Michal Kurtyka speaks during the opening of the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland. VOA

However, NGOs and civil rights bodies say the COP24 has failed to convince all other governments to make the same commitment.

Germany doubled its support for the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, but other European countries still have to do the same.

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe Director Wendel Trio told IANS: “The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens. Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.”

“The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate change pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55 per cent reduction some member states and the European Parliament are calling for.”

United Nations, Global warming, climate change
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 3, 2018. VOA

Jennifer Tollmann, climate diplomacy researcher, E3G said: “In the end the EU did finally step up as a bridge-builder. But we now need to see whether they can ace the real test.”

Andrew Wu, research analyst at World Resources Institute, said: “We cannot overlook land use, a sector which accounts for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. There is now a common framework, supported by COP, to help countries measure land use emissions. All countries must adopt this and incorporate natural climate solutions in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.”

Also Read: As Climate Talks Come to a Halt, Africa Suffers From Global Warming

Commenting on the decision, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group, Gebru Jember Endalew, said: “While there are parts of the package that could and should have been stronger, the implementation guidelines adopted today provide a strong basis to start implementing the agreement.” (IANS)