15 December 2009

Kenya: Climate Change Affects Tea Production

Producer of some of the world's highest quality teas, Michimikuru in Kenya is home to 9,000 farmers who depend on the plant's cultivation for their livelihoods. Michimikuru tea provides the sole source of income for the vast majority of the community's farmers, but the changing climate is negatively affecting their harvests.

Rainfall has become more and more unreliable in recent years, limiting the amount of tea that is produced annually. While 41,800,000 pounds of tea were exported from Michimikuru in 2006, two years later the region saw a drop to 28,600,000 pounds.

Now in 2009, the rains have come to sustain the farmlands less frequently than ever, while winds and storms have increased in intensity. Since tea is vulnerable to drought and erratic rains, the impacts of climate change are liable to continue to negatively affect production at present and in years to come.

That's where the United Kingdom's Cafédirect and the German Technical Corporation (GTZ) come in. Cafédirect, a fair trade drink company, relies on Michimikuru for their tea supply, which is regularly distributed throughout the UK and Ireland. This being the case, Cafédirect has a personal interest in the region and its ability to adapt to climate change. Partnering with GTZ for funding, Cafédirect has begun the Adapt to Climate Change project (AdapCC) with Michimikuru farmers. The project will include several community actions to ease the effects of unpredictable weather patterns.

Wolfgang Weinmann, head of strategic development at Cafédirect, told MediaGlobal, "Cafédirect works in partnership with smallholder growers, buying directly and reinvesting profits back into their businesses. We have been working specifically with smallholders in Kenya for more than six years and the growers are at the heart of our business model, hence the term partners, rather than suppliers."

Cafédirect works closely with three Kenyan tea partners "to support them in developing sustainable businesses and the challenges that come with that," Weinmann continued. "In terms of our tea procurement, Kenya is one of four countries within East Africa from whom we purchase black tea."

Speaking on the effects of climate change, Weinmann explained, "It is the growers who are most affected by climate change and indeed there's no doubt that Cafédirect's smallholder grower partners in Kenya have already felt the impact of climate change. Deforestation, irregular rainfall patterns and rising temperatures all have an impact on the crops with yields dropping year [after] year."

It is through AdapCC and their partnership with Kenyan tea farmers, according to Weinmann, that "Cafédirect aims to ensure that we support the grower partners in adapting to the challenging new climatic conditions and thereby develop environmentally, socially and economically sustainable businesses. We believe that it's this local, independent approach to growing tea, coffee and cocoa that helps to guarantee and maintain a quality crop and, ultimately, an award-winning product."

Kerstin Linne from GTZ, project manager for AdapCC, told MediaGlobal, "The pilot group in Michimikuru directly received 25,000 Euros [approximately US$36,414] for implementing adaptation measures according to their adaptation strategy and their operational plan. Main components are efficient use of energy, soil, water management, and crop diversification. Furthermore, they have a sponsored consultant supporting them throughout the implementation phase."

Linne described the AdapCC project specifically, saying, "The project is a public-private partnership between Cafédirect and the GTZ with a duration of three years (03/2007-02/2010). The objective of AdapCC is to create examples of how producers can adapt to climate change and enhance their access to respective financing mechanisms."

Not only is AdapCC being carried out in Kenya, but in Peru (CEPIFCAFE), Nicaragua (PRODECOOP) and Mexico (Más Café) as well.

"All pilot groups are producer partners to Cafédirect," Linne said. "GTZ as project implementer operates from GTZ headquarters in Eschborn, Germany and has assigned contact persons in each pilot group. The groups implement their jointly elaborated adaptation strategies with external support where necessary."

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