Our Environment & Climate Lead, Rachel Cracknell discusses what we need to do to protect the tea industry from climate change...
I attended COP26 in Glasgow at the end of last year, and listened eagerly to world leaders making unified pledges to try and keep global warming below 1.5°C. I have also witnessed many companies (across many industries) set themselves ambitious plans to reach Net Zero by 2050. But, the reality of implementing plans to reach these targets and to reduce global warming, is no easy task.
As today is Earth Day, I want to reflect for a moment on the importance of keeping climate change high on the agenda and to talk a little about some of the work we are embarking on at ETP.
For many industries, including the tea sector, the effects of the climate crisis have been felt for some time. I remember talking to smallholder tea farmers over ten years ago in Kenya and even then, erratic weather conditions were already presenting huge challenges for them.
Continual erratic weather patterns are now widespread and will have consequences for the supply of tea – the second most consumed drink globally after water. Deforestation, soil erosion, droughts, and flooding are just some of the most pressing issues tea farmers face.
At the Ethical Tea Partnership, we are striving to find new ways to address the impacts of climate change through our projects and programmes implemented across the seven countries we operate in.
We work to support climate resilient agriculture and have piloted different interventions, from supporting farmers to harvest rainwater to address changing rainfall patterns, supporting smallholder farmers to access more climate resilient tea bushes, as well as sharing and helping farmers to learn about new farming practices through integrating climate smart agriculture techniques. We work to disseminate and share learnings back across the sector on the issues and solutions, as all climate resilient agricultural methods require long-term financial investment.
Deforestation presents another huge challenge and has a range of negative impacts for tea communities. With limited data in this area, we are working to paint a full picture of the problem within tea value chains.
With leaders representing over 85% of the world’s forests committing to end (and reverse) deforestation at COP26, I am looking into ways to access the $12bn funding that has been made available and to work across the sector to think about the best ways to implement programmes and projects that make the most impact to tackle deforestation at scale.
An ambitious aim of ours at the ETP is for the tea industry to become ‘net zero’, and we are working across the tea supply chain to facilitate this. We will be working with our members to set realistic emission reduction targets and to help them find ways to reach their targets. At the producer end, we will work to understand more about the ‘hotspot areas’ in emissions – and then look at how we can develop programmes and initiatives to tackle and support emissions reductions.
In the race to reach net zero, it is fundamental that we continue to invest in learning and research, and we are excited to collaborate on a research partnership through the FCDO’s Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW) Programme. This programme looks specifically on impacts of climate change on women in tea supply chains. Women are the most marginalised and are often ‘invisible’ in global value chains, even though they make up most of the agricultural labour force in many countries. The findings will be invaluable for our sector giving us first hand insight into issues facing women specifically.
Women are the most marginalised and are often ‘invisible’ in global value chains, even though they make up most of the agricultural labour force in many countries.
Building up our knowledge and shared learning is so important to help us develop the supportive policy framework we desperately need to address the climate crisis. Long-term financial investment will be needed, along with government buy-in, to ensure policy frameworks are not only developed, but adhered to. Furthermore, all the initiatives and targets we have set to address the challenges ahead require a multi-partnership approach, with the smallholder farmer sitting at centre stage.
The climate crisis doesn’t pause at any time for us to take stock, so we must continue to strive to build adaptive measures into all our programme activity, find new ways to work cohesively, and to share the same targets and goals to make significant sustainable impact to protect our tea leaves and those that rely on tea to make a living.