Adverse weather conditions hurting tea farmers

This susceptibility to changing weather patterns will have adverse effects on the socio-economic status of players in the entire tea production value chain.PHOTO:COURTESY

The unpredictability that is synonymous with the weather has gone a notch higher; aggravated by changing patterns occasioned by climate change.

Thanks to science and research, there is indisputable evidence supporting existence of a global alteration in weather patterns that, unfortunately, has come at a high price for the agricultural fraternity, and the local tea sector has not been left unscathed.

For instance, it is near impossible to predict and anticipate rainfall patterns in Kenya as happened in the days of yore.

As such, those who derive their livelihood from the tea sector are susceptible to the weather.

For the better part of last year, rainfall was insufficient, resulting in a dry spell that has spilled into the New Year and the weatherman reckons the situation may get worse.

This susceptibility to changing weather patterns will have adverse effects on the socio-economic status of players in the entire tea production value chain.

The drought will definitely result in diminished tea quantities amid unchanged global tea price.

In Kenya, the tea industry contributes about 11 per cent of total agricultural sector output to the GDP. Tea exports in 2016 amounted to Sh125.25 billion, 25 per cent of the country’s foreign exchange. Moreover, in excess of 3 million people directly and indirectly derive their income from the sector.

However, in the face of persistent drought and a decline in tea production, there will no doubt be significant loss of income for the farmers. Some of the regular workers on a full time basis are bound to be re-deployed on a short-term or temporal basis, which means decreased earnings.

Foreign exchange earnings from tea sales are bound to take a hit and plummet. The ramifications will have a ripple effect across the economy at large.

Smallholder farmers bear the biggest brunt of the erratic weather patterns since they lack solid financial backing to keep them afloat during the hard times.

They lack the spending power to spare for adaptation measures like resistant tea clones, input materials like fertiliser and pesticides, as well as water management and conservation practices like water harvesting.

This has been a recurrent experience over the years and there needs to be concerted efforts aimed at apprehending the situation in the nick of time to curb subsequent loss of revenue for individuals, firms and the country at large.

Tea is not only a significant source of revenue for the local economy, but also a source of pride for the nation, globally renowned for the finest quality of black tea.

Therefore, it ought to be of paramount concern to players when tea production is periodically curtailed by unforeseen but anticipated eventualities.

With proper prioritisation, it is possible to develop a climate-compatible agricultural sector, not susceptible to erratic weather patterns but one that sustainably enhances crop resilience, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, while enhancing the achievement of national food security and the country’s development goals.

It is possible for a public–private partnership geared towards enhancing investment in the tea sector with farmers at the centre of any investment drive aimed at establishing crop sustainability.

Farmers in many low-to-middle income countries have low ability to tolerate risk and the environment is often un-conducive and is further aggravated by weak incentives to make sustainable investment in agriculture, leaving them at the mercy of external shocks and market vulnerabilities.

Investing in climate-smart agriculture is one of the most effective strategies of reducing poverty, hunger and promoting sustainability, especially in an overly agricultural dependent country like Kenya.

Empirical evidence from case studies clearly shows that regions where agricultural capital per worker and public agricultural spending per worker have stagnated or fallen during the last three decades are also the epicentres of poverty and hunger in the world.

Over the coming decades, demand growth for agricultural products will exert more pressure on the natural resource base, which in many developing regions is already degraded, therefore investment in conservation of natural resources and transition to sustainable utilisation of the resources remains paramount to mitigating against adverse weather conditions that interfere with production of the ever precious tea.

As the long-term measures are put in place to breed a sustainable and conducive environment, the Government, donors and other players have a special responsibility to help tea farmers overcome barriers to saving and investment, who often face severe constraints to investing in agriculture because they operate so close to the margins of survival they are unable to save or tolerate additional risk.