Uganda’s tea trade threatened by rising temperatures

Uganda's tea trade supports the livelihoods of up to half a million people Copyright: Flickr/ Stefan Gara

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[KAMPALA] Some of Uganda's most lucrative tea plantations could be "wiped off the map" under the 2.3 degree Celsius temperature rise predicted for 2050, a study has said.

Even with the expected one degree Celsius rise by 2020, the 60,000 small farmers who grow Uganda's high-quality tea could face a 30 to 48 per cent decline in output, scientists at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) have said.

Yields are expected to shrink and optimum tea-producing zones will shift uphill to cooler areas according to Peter Laderach, a CIAT climate scientist and an author of the Future Climate Scenarios for Uganda's Tea Growing Areas study, published last month (2 August).

Patrick Wetala, lead tea researcher at Uganda's Coffee Research Centre, told SciDev.Net that temperature rises will expose tea varieties to new conditions.

"In practice the rise in temperature is likely to lead to some parts of the plant, or all the plant, wilting or utterly drying as often happens during drought," Wetala said.

"The plucked leaf of the surviving plants will give poor quality tea as the leaves will be brittle," he added.

"Another, possibly more serious, impact of the rise in temperature is the coming into prominence of previously minor pests and diseases and the emergence of more virulent ones," he said.

The report, whose results were "a shock" according to Laderach, combined the results of 18 climate and two crop-prediction models, concluding that Uganda was set to suffer more than neighbouring Kenya, for a which a report CIAT published earlier this year (26 May) predicted "serious challenges" .

George Sekitoleko, executive secretary of the Ugandan Tea Association (UTA), said: " What scientists are predicting is right because whenever we have prolonged droughts, tea bushes dry extensively. Therefore, when temperatures rise by 2.3 degrees Celsius, impacts shall be extremely serious.

"Worse still, our tea is 100 per cent rain-fed. And the tea trade earns Uganda US$90m in foreign exchange."

"Concerted efforts towards adaptation now will be crucial to help minimise the risk," said Laderach.

Uganda grows about 20,000 hectares (ha) of tea, compared with about 132,000 ha for Kenya, and supports the livelihoods of up to half a million people, according to the UTA.