Taiwan's tea growers scramble to adapt to extreme weather

Asia's Tech News Daily

Taiwan’s, climate change

Last year’s once-in-a-century drought followed by torrential rain this year have left Taiwan’s tea farmers scrambling to adapt to the extreme weather changes.

“Climate is the thing we can least control in managing our tea plantation,” said Chien Shun-yih as he looked out over his withering tea fields in the island’s picturesque southern Meishan township. “We really do rely on the sky to eat.”

Taiwan’s, climate change

Chien Shun-yih is working on strategies for his family tea plantation in Taiwan’s Meishan township to cope with the extreme weather. Photo: Reuters

Taiwan’s tea output does not come close to matching China or India’s, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality, especially the high mountain premium Oolong variety that Meishan specialises in.

Tea has been grown in the mountains around Meishan since the island was part of China’s Qing dynasty in the 19th century. The industry matured and expanded under Japanese imperial rule from 1895-1945.

Chien, 28, who returned to run the family plantation after his father died of cancer four years ago, is now working on coping strategies for extreme weather, including hacking deep into the undergrowth to look for pools to pipe water to the fields.

Lin Shiou-ruei, a government researcher helping Meishan’s farmers, said another problem the extreme weather brings is pests that attack the young tea buds.

“Pests love the dry and the heat,” she said at her experimental fields in Taoyuan in northern Taiwan. “Previously it wouldn’t be hot until around May to July, but now in April it’s already really hot.”

Taiwan’s, climate change

Tea has been grown in the mountains around Taiwan’s Meishan township since the 19th century. Photo: Reuters

Lin is working to educate farmers about the pests that proliferate with climate change, and how to identify and manage them.

Her boss, senior agronomist Tsai Hsien-tsung, said they began monitoring weather changes in the tea country four years ago and have already seen the crop’s flavour alter with the seasons. “Temperatures are going up, rainfall is going down. There is less moisture in the air,” he said. “Tea is very sensitive.”

However, whether what is happening in Taiwan’s tea country is directly related to climate change remains an area for debate.

Taiwan’s, climate change

Taiwan tea producer Chien Shun-yih estimates his plantation’s harvest this year will be halved because of the drought and rains. Photo: Reuters

Chen Yung-ming, head of the climate change division at Taiwan’s National Science and Technology Centre for Disaster Reduction, said it was not possible to blame the drought on climate change. “We can only say that the chance of continuous drought will increase.”

Chien estimates he will only harvest 600kg (1,300lb) of tea this year – half of last year’s crop – because of the drought and rain, but says he is determined not to be beaten. “These trees are what fed me and brought me up. In return I want to try my best to take good care of them too.”

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