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Climate change predictions build resilience in African tea production

Climate change predictions build resilience in African tea production

Researchers in the UK and Africa have teamed up to help tea producers better understand future climate risks so that they can reduce crop damage caused by climate change.

Kenya and Malawi produce more than half the tea Britons consume and the crop makes up about 7% of Malawi's GDP and 4% of Kenya's. In recent years frosts followed by high daytime temperatures have reduced yields, as have longer and more intense dry spells.

The plants are particularly sensitive to climate and the research suggests that without interventions aimed at specific locations tea production will decline in Kenya and Malawi by the 2050s—and fall significantly further by the 2080s.

Working with producers and their representatives in both countries, a University of Leeds-led research team assessed climate factors affecting the growth and quality of tea at nine locations. Their results are published in Climate Risk Management.

Project lead Professor Andy Dougill said: "We combined long-term climate observations and the latest climate model projections to predict micro-climates for nine areas over the coming decades. The same methodology could now be applied to other tea-producing areas of the world and adapted for other cash crops."

Using producers' knowledge of how tea plants at each location respond to specific weather conditions, the team was able to assess how those weather conditions are predicted to change in the future in terms of the range of possible micro-climates for each site. This has helped to provide tea producers with new information to guide them on how best to adapt to future climates by both targeted interventions and plant breeding programs. Lead author Dr. Neha Mittal, from the University's School of Earth and Environment, said: "Our study suggests that all nine locations will see substantial increases in heatwave days but significant declines in the number of cold nights by the 2050s.
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