Climate-smart tea gardens with UK help

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  • Published 8.09.14

Guwahati, Sept. 7: Tea garden managers in Assam will soon be equipped with a decision support system which will help them plan for and adapt to climate-driven changes.

The system is being developed under a collaborative initiative called “Climate-smartening Assam’s tea plantation landscapes: defining socio-ecological ‘safe spaces’ for future sustainability”, between the University of Southampton (UK) and India’s Tea Research Association (TRA).

The UK-India Education Research Initiative and the department of science and technology, government of India, are funding the two-year project, which has just begun.

The project is being done in Assam, as it is one of most globally important tea-producing regions manufacturing high-end graded tea, which contributes around 17 per cent of the global tea production and produces more than 50 per cent of India’s total tea output annually.

“We are aiming to achieve a web-based decision support system which can be used by tea estate managers to assist them in planning and adapting to climate-driven changes. How we develop this system will largely depend on the results of our climate-yield analysis, so we know which variables are likely to have the highest impact on tea production. The research results will also ascertain the social values of tea within the Assam landscape,” Niladri Gupta, India-based principal investigator for the project and a scientist at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute, told The Telegraph.

“We all know that temperature, rainfall and humidity are some of the important variables which impact tea production. But the study will be able to tell which variable has the highest impact,” he added.

Climate-smart agricultural practices and management approaches aim to ensure sustainable increase in productivity and income, enhance agro-ecosystem resilience to climatic change and mitigate agricultural contribution to climate change. Climate-smartening Assam’s tea plantation landscapes would deliver multiple simultaneous benefits to livelihood and the environment whilst developing resilience to uncertain and negative climate change impact.

Modelling studies indicate that tea yields in the Northeast are expected to decline by up to 40 per cent by 2050. As yield is directly associated with revenue, changing climate is likely to impact economic structures of those reliant on tea, particularly the small growers given their increased vulnerability to changes in the system.

According to the Tea Board of India, the July crop in Assam is down by 3.22 per cent compared to the same period last year owing to irregular rain in the preceding months. The crop was down significantly in the earlier months because of drought-like conditions but has improved after the rain.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Group on Tea under Food and Agriculture Organisation has said the possible fallouts of the climate change are already being witnessed and have increased management costs. The group’s meeting in Rome had recommended certain agronomic practices to battle climate change.

Gupta said this is the first time that climate change impact on livelihood of workers will be ascertained and there will be stakeholder workshops under the project.

The Assam tea industry has five lakh permanent workers and an equal number of temporary workers.

The project note says that through looking at the role of tea landscapes in livelihood, it will be possible to determine whether centuries of tea production in Assam can provide evidence to support the crop as ecologically resilient and the most suitable crop to reduce vulnerability and develop social resiliency within the state. “Such research is essential to ensure continuing sustainable practice in Assam and transfer best-practice strategies to new-world commercial and small-holder tea ventures,” it said.