Tea production rises: but FAO warns of climate change threat

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

A tea plantation in Bandung, Indonesia. Pic: getty/antosetiawan
A tea plantation in Bandung, Indonesia. Pic: getty/antosetiawan

Related tags Tea Climate change

Global production of black tea is projected to rise annually by 2.2% over the next decade, while green tea is predicted to grow by 7.5% a year. But tea is highly sensitive to changes in growing conditions – and many tea-growing countries will be ‘heavily impacted by climate change’, according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

The FAO's Intergovernmental Group on Tea advises tea-producing countries consider climate change as part of their national tea development strategies.

Floods and droughts are already affecting yields, quality, and prices, it reports.

World tea production

World production of black tea is projected to rise annually by 2.2% over the next decade to reach 4.4 million tonnes in 2027, reflecting major output increases in China, Kenya and Sri Lanka.

Global output of green tea is foreseen to increase at an even faster rate of 7.5% annually to reach 3.6 million tonnes in 2027, largely driven by China, where the production of green tea is expected to more than double from 1.5 million tonnes in 2015-2017 to 3.3 million tonnes in 2027.

The growth of green tea production is likely to result from increased productivity rather than an expansion in area: through replanting of higher yielding varieties and better agricultural practices. Vietnam is also expected to substantially increase its production of green tea with an average annual growth rate of 6.8%.

Growth in tea production has been driven by increased demand for tea. Consumption has grown rapidly in China, India and other emerging economies, thanks to higher incomes and specialty items such as herbal teas, fruit fusions and flavored gourmet teas. Tea’s health halo, too, is helping it win over other beverage categories.

Increased production and consumption creates new rural income opportunities and improves food security in tea-producing countries, according to the FAO.

But it also warns of the threat to the tea industry – and associated livelihoods - from climate change.

“Commercial growing of tea is geographically limited to a few areas around the world, which are at risk under climate change," ​it says. "Therefore, an expected supply response to expanding demand may not be as easy as it has been in the past, given the possible constraints to the availability of suitable land.

The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, ​is highly vulnerable to changes in the environment.

“Tea production is highly sensitive to changes in growing conditions. Tea can only be produced in narrowly defined agro-ecological conditions and, hence, in a very limited number of countries, many of which will be heavily impacted by climate change.

“Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, with more floods and droughts, are already affecting yields, tea product quality and prices, lowering incomes and threatening rural livelihoods.

“These climate changes are expected to intensify, calling for urgent adaptation measures. In parallel, there is a growing recognition of the need to contribute to climate change mitigation, by reducing carbon emissions from tea production and processing.

“We therefore urge tea-producing countries to integrate climate change challenges, both on the adaptation and mitigation front, into their national tea development strategies.” 

World tea production

World tea production (black, green, instant and other) increased by 4.4% annually over the last decade to reach 5.73 million tonnes in 2016.

China has been the driving force in global tea output: production in the country more than doubled from 1.17 million tonnes in 2007 to 2.44 million tonnes in 2016, as domestic demand grows rapidly.

China accounts for around 42.6% of world tea production (2.44 million tonnes in 2016). India is the world’s second largest producer (1.27 million tonnes).

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