At Sukambizi Association Trust in Malawi tea plants are not producing as much leaf as they should. On average crop yield is down by about 15 percent.
Effects of climate change
Drought conditions are responsible for an increase in diseases uncommon in the area in the past. A pest called Helopeltis, which looks like a mosquito, has now become a big problem. The adult lays its eggs on the tea plant and when they hatch they feed on the young tea leaves and tender stems, which dries them out and makes them useless. The farmers probably lose between five and ten percent of their crop to pests, and the longer the drought period goes on the worse the problem gets.
Tea farmers who live close to the mountain are not so badly affected by the drought. But while living close to the mountain means people get more rain, it also has hidden dangers that are linked to climate change. Last March during a period of excessive rain the water table beneath the mountain rose dramatically, causing a flood to emerge during the middle of the night, and pour down into the tea fields and villages below, bringing massive rocks and debris with it. Unfortunately, those smallholder farmers with land directly in the deluge’s path lost everything, and two children died when their traditional home was swept away while they slept inside.
Measures taken by the farmers
As part of its efforts to address climate change, the Sukambizi Association Trust has begun to develop a number of different initiatives.
The tea research foundation has developed drought tolerant and high yielding tea clones. These have enabled their members to maintain a viable level of tea production. However, developing new varieties of tea, while beneficial, has proved a costly and time consuming venture.
So far Fairtrade premium money has been used to plant nurseries so farmers can replace the tea plants that die. The organization is also building a big warehouse so farmers can store large quantities of maize throughout the year. When the warehouse is finished they can buy it in bulk at a cheaper price and store it safely for use through the year, securing food supplies.
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