A new report by climate scientists at the Colombia-based International Centre for Tropical Agriculture shows that if average temperatures rise by an expected 2.3 degrees Celsius by the middle of the century, some of Uganda’s most lucrative tea producing areas could be completely wiped off the map. Such an eventuality would be a catastrophe for the farmers of Mabale Tea Growers Factory and the bigger region, where tea production employs over 60,000 small farmers, and supports the livelihoods of up to half a million people.
Effects of climate change
The area is meant to have two rainy seasons and a dry season in between, but this does not occur like it should anymore. Now farmers can expect rain in any month, but often for a short time and a real downpour, while for optimal results of their crops, tea farmers need light steady rain. Heavy storms bring hailstones, thunder and lightning, which can harm people and animals. Heavy rains wash away the soil. As a result farmers now have to put in extra fertilizer and build trenches or they encroach the wetlands, which are crucial to the local environment.
Climate change is also bringing new diseases which were not common few years back, consequently the tea bushes are dying in large numbers. Unfortunately Uganda’s tea research centre, which had planned research on the matter, closed down. For the first time in 30 years, there has also been an invasion of termites. Termites, which are characterised with areas of relatively high temperatures, are now making it hard for tea plants, and even other cereal crops and trees, to survive.
Measures taken by the farmers
In a bid to protect the soil from erosion and address deforestation Mabale Tea Growers Factory has created tree seedling nurseries to increase the local forestry at a cost of five million Ugandan shillings to the company over the past three years. The organisation has realised the danger it is posing to the forests and consequently has begun implementing Cleaner Production and Environmental Management system, based on the ISO14001E standards, which has seen them burn less firewood. Now a cubic meter of wood cures 540 kilos of tea instead of 340 kilos.
Mabale Tea has also made a decision in recent years to try and preserve the district’s wetlands. Signs have been put around the areas warning farmers not to encroach them. The organization has been empowered by the government to protect seven of the wetlands in their area.
They are also multiplying a clone of tea that is more drought resistant than the one they currently farm; this is in order to cub the unexpected conditions of drought.
Read the full case study here.
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