Climate change is taking a toll on global tea production with a decrease in crop being reported in almost all major tea producing countries. Between January and May this year a drop of 64.4 million kg, marking a 12.4 per cent drop over the same period in 2011, has been noticed. The total production stood at 456.7 million kg in the 10 countries whose statistics were reviewed

The drop has been sharpest for countries like Kenya, where a shortfall of 22.4 per cent has been reported in the first four months in 2012. India, the world’s largest producer of black tea, has suffered a 14.4 per cent drop in the first four months, according to statistics just released by the industry regulator. In this period, production stood at 143.3 million kg. And in June, excessive rainfall in Assam, which accounts for half of India’s output, is threatening to affect the crop while raising the sceptre of a pest attack.

Erratic rainfall this year and persistent drought conditions since last year are believed to have contributed majorly to this shortfall. Some smaller tea-producing countries like Uganda lost nearly half their tea crop in the first five months of this year.

Indian Tea Association chairman C. S. Bedi told The Hindu that dry weather since October had debilitated tea bushes. While irrigation is a way of reducing the impact, no irrigation system can substitute for the quantum of rainfall needed for a tea bush, which is a perennial crop, some of which are 70 years old, he added.

Mr. Bedi, also the former Tea Research Association (TRA) chairman, said the TRA has turned its attention to climate change with it becoming a huge issue and a blueprint has been drawn up for mitigation and adaptation to changed weather patterns.

“Although earlier droughts came every alternate year, now they have become more frequent,” he said, sharing his apprehension about the impending effect of El Nino, adding, “Already we are seeing a rain deficit in the current monsoon spell.”

The industry is not only losing volume but also quality. India, which produces some of its best teas — called first flush — during the earlier part of the year, has already lost some of its most valuable crop due to the erratic rainfall and the prospect of second flush does not appear too good either, planters say.

The world average for tea auction prices has shown a rising trend, especially in countries which have a crop shortfall. Kenya’s Mombasa auction centre has prices appreciating by a wide margin in rupee terms, with a smaller variation in dollar terms.

Tea consumers in India have already started feeling the pinch with packets of loose tea going up alongside the established labels. However, profits are unlikely to rise in tandem as volumes are becoming lower.